Retail spending across Australia jumped 8.5 per cent in March as consumers stockpiled food and office supplies in anticipation of coronavirus lockdown measures.
Seasonally adjusted retail spending rose to $30.11 billion and followed a rise of 0.6 per cent in February, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data released on Wednesday.
The result helped retail sales volumes lift 0.7 per cent for the March quarter to a total of $80.72 billion.
The monthly number bettered an optimistic market expectation, with analysts forecasting an 8.0 per cent rise in March.
The result was driven by unprecedented demand in food retailing, with spending on groceries, liquor and specialised food up between 23 per cent and 30 per cent.
Spends on household goods also rose sharply, led by increases in hardware, building and garden supplies (17.4 per cent), and electrical and electronic goods (11.3 per cent).
However, the impact of social distancing regulations – introduced in the late March – saw sales fall in cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services, while discretionary spending on clothing, footwear and in department stores was also weak.
Spending on clothing slid by a quarter in March, while spending at department stores fell 8.9 per cent.
Online retail contributed 7.1 per cent to the total retail turnover in March, up from 5.7 per cent a year earlier.
Quarterly retail spending was also boosted by the March numbers, although high food prices moderated retail volumes, the ABS data showed.
The strong numbers did not surprise the market, with the Australian dollar trading little changed at 64.33 cents per US dollar after the announcement at 1130 AEST.