Retail closes in three states

As Victoria was plunged into its fifth lockdown, NSW restrictions were tightened as lockdown continues and SA introduced level 4 restrictions, the cost to the retail industry has blown out into the billions of dollars.

Another $1 billion worth of retail trade is at risk with Victoria entering a five-day lockdown; building on the $6 billion in retail trade already at stake with the extended NSW lockdown and the previous lockdown in Victoria, according to the Australian Retailers Association (ARA).

ARA CEO Paul Zahra says the fifth lockdown for Victoria brings the state-imposed lockdowns to a total of 68 days in 2021 alone.

“This is Groundhog Day for Victorians,” he says. “This lockdown delivers another billion-dollar blow for retail businesses and workers who are yet again the innocent victims of the virus and our delayed national vaccine rollout.

“Victorians have been to hell and back over the past 18 months and lockdowns have sadly become a way of life. The impact will be immense―we estimate another billion dollars’ worth of retail trade is at risk and many small businesses are past breaking point. Vulnerable businesses, in particular CBD retailers, hospitality and beauty businesses have yet to recover from the last lockdown in June, and unfortunately now, it’s back to square one.

“Lockdowns have a financial and a social cost, taking a toll on people’s confidence and their mental health. We must ensure accessible support measures are in place and well promoted to those who may need help.

“NSW and Victoria are the engine rooms of the national economy, and with Australia’s two largest states now in lockdown, our pandemic recovery is in a precarious position,” he says.

National Retail Association (NRA) CEO Dominique Lamb adds that retailers understand the need to keep the community safe, but its Melbourne members will certainly be frustrated by another lockdown―it really is Groundhog Day.

“Even a short, sharp and successful lockdown can have a giant impact on businesses forced to close,” she explains.

“Not only do they forgo revenue for the days they’re unable to trade, but reopening is not like flicking on a light switch―rosters need to be organised, stock needs to be ordered and protocols need to be implemented.

“The NRA forecasts that affected retailers stand to lose $750 million in turnover over the duration of this five day lockdown.”

As most of Greater Sydney is entering its fourth week in lockdown, the ARA says the closure of non-essential retail in Greater Sydney has come as no surprise but is a massive blow for small businesses already doing it tough. 

Zahra says the new rules and restrictions will end the confusion around what is considered essential shopping, but it will come with a heavy economic cost.

“This announcement has come as no surprise, with daily case numbers hovering around triple figures, so tighter restrictions were always on the cards.

“The silver lining in all this is that we finally have a clear definition from the NSW Government on what is considered essential retail. The previous three weeks have been incredibly confusing for businesses and consumers with no direction on retailers having to close.

“We’ve seen situations where smaller retailers have been open with no customers with government advice to only purchase ‘essential’ items, which is open to interpretation.

“We now have a clear list on the types of retail business that can continue to open, which include pharmacies, hardware, post offices, newsagents and office supply stores along with supermarkets and grocery stores.

“Whilst this is a devastating blow for the businesses that will have to close, this at least provides some clarity and will hopefully see an end to the confusion around people shopping for essentials.

“Most retailers have a digital option, so if there are things you would normally buy in stores, consider click and collect, shop online and check out the takeaway and delivery options that are available.

“Every dollar you spend keeps someone in a job―it doesn’t matter if that purchase is made in a store or over the internet,” he reiterates.

In addition to the seven billion at risk with the NSW and Victorian lockdowns, a further quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of retail trade is now at risk due to the restrictions back in place in South Australia following new Covid cases in the community.

Zahra says the closure of non-essential retail is a devastating blow at short notice.

“We estimate $250 million worth of retail trade in South Australia is at risk due to the new restrictions that will be in place until Friday. This is particularly damaging for small businesses that will have to close, which just compounds the pain they were feeling from the sluggish Covid recovery.

“The ARA is again calling for a national approach to managing Covid lockdowns and restrictions. There are too many inconsistencies across the states and territories whenever new restrictions are put in place. We still don’t have a clear definition of ‘essential retail’ which just adds to the confusion for businesses and consumers. This creates more pain and chaos for businesses with a national footprint, as their stores are affected in different ways depending on what city they’re in."