Can revenge spending help save retail property? REA's Nerida Conisbee

Can revenge spending help save retail property? REA's Nerida Conisbee
Nerida ConisbeeDecember 8, 2020

Remember when our retail spend was shifting from buying things to buying experiences? That was only four months ago.

Since then, Australians have been spending more at supermarkets and on consumer electronics than on apparel and at department stores. Our expenditure on experiences, in particular travel, has been almost non-existent. It was therefore interesting to hear that in China there has been a rebound in luxury spending post COVID-19 lockdowns.

(Spending excessively after a period when one has had limited opportunities to spend has emerged after the lockdown, where in several Chinese cities, consumers flocked the various brand outlets to beat the lockdown blues.)

The most recent retail trade data for May did show an element of ‘revenge spending’ by Australian consumers. After plunging 17.7% in April, spending bounced back 16.3% in May. June is likely to look similarly positive, although, the Melbourne lockdowns are likely to start to drag it back again in July.

At the beginning of the first lockdown in mid-March, I thought that the most impacted property sector would be shopping centres, but it has remained surprisingly resilient despite the enormous challenges for retailers.

While the sector has remained somewhat resilient, the vacancy rate has risen. According to JLL, the national average shopping centre vacancy rate rose to 5.1% in June from 3.8% six months earlier. This rate excluded temporary closures.

By far the most impacted precincts have been CBDs where the vacancy rate has now hit 10%. Working from home has been disastrous for CBD retailing. The other big shift has been the acceleration of online retailing. In a three-month time period, it has gone from 9% of retail sales to 10.5%. Not exactly a runaway pace but a sharp increase over a short time period.

For now, our expenditure on travel, eating out and entertainment outside the home is likely to remain far more muted. Meanwhile expenditure at supermarkets and on takeaway food is likely to be far more positive. While I can’t see myself rushing out to buy luxury brands any time soon, the rush to the shops in China is hopefully a good news story for shopping centres over the next 12 months.

NERIDA CONISBEE is the Chief Economist at REA

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