Total retail turnover was $35.77 billion, down in seasonally adjusted terms from September's result of $35.82 billion.
Turnover was down in all categories except food retailing.
"It looks like consumers hit the pause button on some discretionary spending in October, likely waiting to take advantage of discounts during Black Friday sales events in November," ABS head of retail statistics Ben Dorber said.
"This is a pattern we have seen develop in recent years as Black Friday sales grow in popularity."
Market economists' forecasts were anywhere from -0.9% to +0.6%. Among the major banks, economists at CBA had forecast a contraction of 0.6%; ANZ +0.5%; NAB -0.4%; and Westpac +0.2%.
The more wide-ranging views indicate uncertainty around the lull between spending on the FIFA Women's World Cup and football finals, and Black Friday.
Compared to October 2022, sales are up 1.2%, but are thought to be deeply negative in real terms when inflation and population growth are taken into account.
As retail sales is proving to be a more volatile series - especially in the last quarter of the year - CBA economist Stephen Wu said there's not much to read here.
"In any case, it is too early to tell how much of the spending we are observing in November is a bring forward of spending that previously would have occurred around Christmas. As such, we would caution against reading too much into the next few months of retail trade data," Mr Wu said.
NAB's retail sales index for October, released yesterday, posted a strong result; on a seasonally adjusted basis sales growth was up 3.3% on the month.
Compared to October last year, spending was up 9.6%, for a total of around $54.36 spent from NAB customers in the past 12 months.
NAB's index captures around 12.8% of the retail turnover market; it's also subject to significant revisions with September's result revised from 2.9% to 0.7%.
The strong October figure was led by personal and recreational goods as well as fashion, groceries and liquor.
"Fashion, which had seen four consecutive monthly declines, recorded the second highest growth rate in October," said Alan Oster, NAB's chief economist.
"Media was the only category to record a monthly contraction, and slow in year-on-year terms, but this is after a mid-year period of stronger than average growth."
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