States easing coronavirus restrictions have sent Australians back to the shops as new spending and traffic figures show the nation looks to be past of the worst of the COVID-19 shutdown.

“I’m seeing sales in Australia up by 44 per cent on the previous week, but they were still down by 61 per cent from the same week last year,” said Kepler boss David Gordon.
His firm measures retail activity using a panel of 1100 stores across Australia and New Zealand in 280 locations. He said that the data showed that even though shopper numbers and sales were down compared to last year, those shopping were spending much more per transaction.
“There are two reasons for the increase. The first is that people are definitely going back out to shop, with around about 10 per cent more stores open than the previous week,” he said.
“The other reason for the better sales is that even though there are fewer people in stores, there’s a greater percentage of them buying. So sales conversion is up by 50 per cent from last year,” he said.
Transaction value was up by 47 per cent on the previous year, also suggesting shoppers were less price conscious than before.
“There’s pent-up demand and the more stores that open, the more their competitors follow them opening,” Mr Gordon said.
“The openings are really more in regional and what we call b- and c-class centres and not the big centres. Because one of the key criteria for a retailer is rent negotiations and it is more difficult to get a rent discussion happening at the bigger centres. That means smaller centres and strips actually reopening faster.”
ASX-listed retailer Accent Group, which reopened its more than 500 stores on the weekend, saw higher-than-normal average transaction sizes but overall sales were still down more than 50 per cent from the same period last year.
“Based on the government relaxing a lot of restrictions, we’ve opened all of our stores across the weekend,” said boss Daniel Agostinelli.
Accent Group CEO Daniel Agostinelli.  
“We’ve worked tirelessly in the background to ensure we have all the safety measures in place, such as sanitiser and social distancing. We’ve also spent a lot of time training our team to ensure the new way of serving our customers, with safety in mind, is adhered to.”
Mr Agostinelli said that the foot traffic the network saw on the weekend could be a “false read” due to many stores keeping their doors shut.
“Essentially, many, many retailers are still closed. Those that are open are probably getting a false read on customer traffic. Customers are simply walking into whatever is open.”
“Everyone is sick and tired of being cooped up at home and I guess people are wandering into the stores. We’ve got a lot of lookers but those that are transacting are certainly buying more than they would normally. But, I want to be clear, we’re still at 50 per cent where we were last year and we expect that to continue into October.”
His assessment of how long the retail slump would last is based on overseas experience.
“We are hopeful that we will see more customers in the shopping centres as restrictions continue to be eased. However, based on what we’ve seen in China and Singapore, we believe it may be short-lived and people will remain concerned about safety and so on. So we are doing all we can to ease that concern.”
JP Morgan’s equities strategist, Jason Steed, said the bank worried that the COVID-19 crisis would see Australians choosing to save rather than spend even if restrictions are lifted.
“The worrying aspect of consumer behaviour in the wake of the GFC was the persistence of a high savings rate, with the level holding at an elevated level of 8 per cent for nearly eight years,” Mr Steed said.
“With the COVID-19 crisis set to exact a much greater toll on employment and the economy-at-large, we fear a repeat, which would drag on the pace and extent of the recovery.”
Deloitte Access Economics economist Chris Richardson said successful management of the coronavirus meant Australians were moving out of the downturn from a position of strength.
“We are one of five or six nations around the world who have done spectacularly well against the virus. That means we’re going to be one of the five or six fastest growing nations in the world over the next 12 months.
“But it also means we can’t waste that success. We can’t be cavalier.”
He said national cabinet’s consideration of relaxing restrictions on Friday could disappoint if not enough people download the COVIDSafe app.
“There are still risks. The virus is beaten down, it is not beaten and we do need to be careful around that,” he said.