ABS to spend $2.1 million measuring online sales but questions abound

The Australian Bureau of Statistics is going to measure online retail sales in a $2.1 million exercise and while retailers welcome the move they have also questioned whether the bureau will be able to fully capture the scale of overseas purchases.

The Australian Retailers Association has backed the measurement but the Australian National Retailers Association has highlighted the limitations of the method the ABS will use.

Russell Zimmerman, executive director of the ARA, told SmartCompanythe government should be “commended” for a step in the right direction.

“At the moment whenever we look at these figures they are all just in “other retail” with no breakdown between online and bricks and mortar so this will allow us to track growth and it is very positive for the industry overall,” says Zimmerman.

“We all know is online is happening but what we really don’t know is how quickly it is growing, the figures at the moment are at best well educated guesses at the moment.”

Zimmerman says online is now an integral and normal part of business operations for most retailers and it’s only natural they want to benchmark themselves and gain further insight into online sales as they grow this part of their business further.

However, chief executive of the ANRA Margy Osmond said while the new data would provide a more accurate picture of the “two sides of the retailing coin”, more could be done.

“We believe the data gathered from Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and Australia Post will contribute to this picture, but most Australians use their credit and debit cards or PayPal to buy from an overseas store and this data would also be useful to bring to the discussion,” Osmond said in a statement released yesterday.

“Retailers are keen to see as much data as possible brought together in this investigation in order to get an accurate picture.

“We already know some overseas sites produce fake receipts for goods and this may place limitations on some of the data collected.”

Some information on online retail is already available in the form of the NAB Online Retail Index which is based on two million non-cash transactions per day, scaled up to replicate the broad economy.

A spokesperson for NAB told SmartCompany the bank was unable to comment on how the ABS data would compare with that provided by NAB.

“We welcome further information for businesses on Australia’s retail sector and consumer spending,” the spokesperson for NAB said.

Zimmerman says that in any event, if the ABS data gives a better understanding of what is in the marketplace it is good.

“The NAB Online retail index is not going to give a complete picture, there’s been a whole lot of research work done, but anything that can add to this I think is a good thing for the industry,” he says.

This article first appeared at SmartCompany.


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