Retail sales plunged by a staggering 17.9% in April, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) preliminary figures for the month.

National Retail Association (NRA) CEO Dominique Lamb said the sobering figures show that April saw the full force of COVID-19 hit the economy.

“April was the first full month to encompass the stringent lockdown restrictions on business and these preliminary figures show the devastating impact dealt to the retail sector,” Lamb said.

“It was feared that the tsunami of panic buying we saw in March would result in shoppers placing a padlock on their wallets and purses in April and this is exactly what has happened.

“Every single area of retail recorded a giant fall according to these figures, including businesses that weren’t forced to close.

“We know that governments at all levels have introduced measures to assist business, but these results underline the need for continued support to save hundreds of thousands of jobs.

“Given restrictions are starting to be lifted, we suspect that April will be the worst period but there’s a long way to go before retail starts to see light at the end of the tunnel.”

The findings come at a critical time for retailers, as a ruling by the ACCC has authorised tenants to collectively bargain with landlords for continued rental relief if they’ve been adversely affected by COVID-19.

The authorisation has kicked in immediately and allows tenants impacted by COVID-19 to discuss, share information and collectively negotiate with landlords regarding rental support.

Landlords will also be able to discuss and share information to make agreements regarding rental relief offered to SME tenants by landlords.

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