Retail Sales Show Significant Gains in April Over 2020 Shutdowns

retail sales grow
Retail sales grow in April

Retail sales were virtually unchanged from their strong performance in March and grew dramatically year-over-year in April as the rapidly recovering US economy marked a full year since the coronavirus pandemic shut down most stores during the spring of 2020.

“In March, we saw a surge in spending as stimulus checks came in, and that spending declined slightly in April,” National Retail Federation (NRF) President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Year-over-year growth of 28.8 percent demonstrates that household finances remain strong, and the economic recovery will likely continue to gain steam as we head into the summer months. Consumers are demonstrating that when they feel safe, they are both willing and able to spend and are driving the economy forward. The CDC’s updated guidance for fully vaccinated individuals will help further open the economy and get more people back to work. Retailers will continue to follow coronavirus-related laws and regulations governing store operations in each state and we urge lawmakers and government officials to prioritize policies that both encourage work and continued safety.”

Sales “Off the Charts”

“The economy and consumer spending have proven to be much more resilient than many feared a year ago,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Today’s year-over-year retail sales numbers are off the charts in some categories, reflecting the disparity between retailers that could remain open a year ago and those that were forced to shut down. Consumers may have tapped the brakes slightly in April compared with March, but it was like going from 100 mph to 85 mph compared with last year. The fuel from stimulus checks gave a strong boost to spending in March and the fact that April numbers are very close shows spending is clearly going forward and still strong.”

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The US Census Bureau reported May 14 that overall retail sales in April were unchanged seasonally adjusted from March but up 51.2 percent year-over-year. That compares with increases of 10.1 percent month-over-month and 29 percent year-over-year in March. The year-over-year increases for both March and April were unusually high because most stores were ordered to close beginning in mid-March last year. Despite occasional month-over-month declines, sales have grown year-over-year every month since June 2020, according to Census data.

NRF’s calculation of retail sales – which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail – showed April was down 1.3 percent seasonally adjusted from March but up 28.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year. That compared with a month-over-month increase of 7.6 percent and a year-over-year increase of 18.9 percent in March. NRF’s numbers were up 18.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year on a three-month moving average.

Retail Sales by Category

Despite month-over-month declines in two-thirds of retail categories, April retail sales increased across the board on a year-over-year basis, led by massive increases in retailers like clothing, furniture and sporting goods stores that were ordered to close last spring. Specifics from key retail sectors include:

  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 5.1 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 711.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 0.7 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 199.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sporting goods stores were down 3.6 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 155 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Electronics and appliance stores were up 1.2 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 139.9 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were down 0.4 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 32.9 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Health and personal care stores were up 1 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 24.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Online and other non-store sales were down 0.6 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 14.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • General merchandise stores were down 4.9 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 13.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 0.4 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 0.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

NRF will bring together retailers from a wide range of functional areas to be inspired by leaders, learn relevant and actionable insights from each other, and explore new and tested technologies in their virtual event Retail Converge scheduled for June 21 – 25, 2021.

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