A month after the COVID-19-inspired panic buying spree retailers have suffered the biggest plunge in sales ever recorded.
Shoppers obeying social distancing rules deserted shopping malls and stores in April, driving a record 17.9 per cent fall in purchases that ripped $5.38 billion out of the sector, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The decline was felt across the board.
After experiencing bumper sales in March as people rushed to stock up on toilet paper, flour, pasta, tinned food and cleaning products, supermarkets and grocers were hit along with other retailers.
Sales of food fell more than 17 per cent last month after surging 24 per cent in March while purchases of non-perishable goods plummeted 23.7 per cent in April, a huge turnaround from a 39 per cent spike the previous month.
Last month continued a dismal start to the year for many other retailers.
Purchases of clothing, footwear and personal accessories were half the level of a year earlier, as was spending at cafes, restaurants and takeaway food outlets.
Households urged by health authorities to stay home increasingly turned to the internet to do their shopping. Online sales jumped 10 per cent in April, putting pressure on courier services and the postal network.
The April results highlight a wild couple of months for the retail sector, after sales surged by a record 8.2 per cent the previous month.
The March shopping spree delivered a windfall for supermarkets, which recorded a 22.4 jump in purchases, driven by a doubling of turnover in toilet paper, flour, rice and pasta. Sales of canned food, medicinal products and cleaning goods surged 50 per cent higher.
People also rushed to set up home offices and prepare for do-it-yourself projects, supporting sales of electrical goods and hardware.