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Dire retail sales in Mainland China a harbinger for rest of the world

Retail sales in Mainland China slumped by 20.5 per cent in the first two months of this year according to government figures – providing a glimpse of what lies ahead for retailers in other countries where the coronavirus is now having an impact on community behaviour. 

For most of January and February hundreds of millions of Chinese were subject to lockdown in their homes, and retail stores and shopping malls were closed. Most consumers moved online to purchase goods with e-commerce giants like JD and Alibaba developing safe delivery protocols to ensure distancing between delivery riders and customers. 

Combining the first two months of retail sales figures provide an accurate comparison with previous years as it eliminates any impact from the changing timing of Lunar New Year, traditionally a busy season for retailers. 

By comparison, retail sales in Mainland China grew by 8 per cent in December. 

Analysts had expected sales to fall by 5 per cent in January and February, a dramatic understatement of the eventual figures. 

On a more positive note, many major retail chains have reopened stores across Mainland China this month as the spread of the virus has abated. March data will be eagerly awaited to see if there is any indication of consumers spending on luxury goods and other unnecessary purchases as they celebrate the gradual return to normal life and indulge to reward themselves for enduring the lockdowns. 

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