Push for Sunday trading and midnight shopping to save retail
RETAILERS are demanding a dramatic overhaul of trading hours in Queensland amid concerns one in five bricks and mortar stores could be forced to close in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
The embattled sector is campaigning for Queenslanders to be able to shop until midnight and for Sunday trading to be extended across the state as part of a shake-up of "confusing and outdated" trading laws to help retailers get back on their feet.
The retail report by major investment bank UBS found online sales will nearly double in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in a fundamental shift which could result in 20 per cent of all specialty retail outlets shutting for good.
The report was delivered as new Australian Bureau of Statistics data released on Wednesday showed retail spending fell a record 17.9 per cent in April as strict social and travel restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus hit demand.
It was far worse than what most economists had been expecting and followed a record 8.5 per cent jump in March driven by panic buying and hoarding which left supermarket shelves stripped of essential items.
National Retail Association chief executive Dominique Lamb said Queensland needed to reduce payroll taxes and increase training for regional businesses, and implement consistent trading hours across the state.
"Queensland has a confusing and outdated set of trading laws that need a greater level of consistency across the state," she said.
"A more streamlined set of trading hours post-COVID would help retailers maximise sales by catering to the modern-day shopping habits of consumers."
Large retailers like supermarkets and department stores, which are also big employers, are still prevented from opening on Sundays in certain regional centres.
Ms Lamb said flexible trading hours for the likes of Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, Target and Kmart, which are banned from opening on Sundays in towns such as Kingaroy, Roma, Mt Isa, Bowen, Longreach and Cloncurry, should be adopted.
QUT professor and retail expert Gary Mortimer said all retailers should have the option to adjust their trading hours to suit their community's consumer behaviour, with Brisbane considering a 'night economy' that would allow businesses to open later in the evenings or earlier in the mornings or across weekends.
He said this measure would allow people to shop at different times and avoid crowds while stimulating job growth.
"That might be flexibility to supermarkets to trade to midnight or pharmacies being able expand their suite of health services," he said.
"Certainly in Melbourne and parts of Sydney there is extended trade - and it's not to suggest every supermarket trade til midnight but inner city supermarkets like New Farm, Toowong are very busy, the airport and Skygate already trades 24 hours a day.
"When we look at Mt Isa, which has a high proportion of shift workers - those businesses should be able to cater for those customers.
"While all retailers should have the ability to respond flexibly, there would be some retailers that would say there is no need for a café at midnight or there may be no need to have a fashion store at 10pm at night, but certainly categories like hardware, food and groceries, pharmacy, optometry…beauty services like getting your haircut and nails done, cosmetic services like injectables."
Ms Lamb said retailers would also like to see the government focus on the unemployment level to help the industry so people who lost their jobs find new work and start spending on discretionary items.
"Projects that stimulate the economy such as new infrastructure projects would also help boost spending across the economy," she said.
Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland economist Jack Baxter said issues for retailers stemming from low consumer confidence is likely to be deeply rooted for months to come.
Samantha Ogilvie, who owns two boutiques in Brisbane's James St precinct, said the Job Keeper payments were helping to keep businesses afloat, however whether it ends gradually or on a set cut-off date, will be hard for retailers regardless.
She said it was important hospitality was reopened sooner as it was a key industry that worked hand in hand with retail.
"I think it's going to take a very long time for it to be back to normal - it won't be in the next six months," she said.
Originally published as Push for Sunday trading, midnight shopping to save retail