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Retail Industry Updates

April Retail Sales Virtually Unchanged from March, But That’s Not a Bad Thing

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“Steady as she goes” would be an apt description for April retail sales.

That’s because sales were virtually unchanged when compared to March, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But that’s not a bad thing, as retail sales soared 17.7% in March when compared to the same month in 2020. April sales also grew dramatically year over year — nearly 30% — as the rapidly recovering U.S. economy marked a full year since the coronavirus pandemic shut down most stores during the spring of 2020, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

“In March, we saw a surge in spending as stimulus checks came in, and that spending declined slightly in April,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Year-over-year growth of 28.8% demonstrates that household finances remain strong, and the economic recovery will likely continue to gain steam as we head into the summer months.”

Shay noted that 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 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) updated guidance for fully vaccinated individuals will help further open the economy and get more people back to work,” Shay added. “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.”

NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said the economy and consumer spending have proven to be much more resilient than many feared a year ago.

“Today’s year-over-year 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,” Kleinhenz added. “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.”

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that overall retail sales are up 51.2% year over year. Despite occasional month-over-month declines, retail sales have grown year over year every month since June 2020.

NRF’s calculation of April’s retail sales — which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail — showed April was down 1.3% from March but up 28.8% when compared to April 2020.

Despite month-over-month declines in two-thirds of retail categories, April retail sales increased across the board on a year-over-year basis. Specifics from key retail sectors include:

• Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 5.1% month over month but up 711.3% year over year.

• Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 0.7% month over month but up 199.2% year over year.

• Sporting goods stores were down 3.6% month over month but up 155% year over year.

• Electronics and appliance stores were up 1.2% month over month and up 139.9% year over year.

• Building materials and garden supply stores were down 0.4% month over month but up 32.9% year over year.

• Health and personal care stores were up 1% month over month and up 24.6% year over year.

• Online and other non-store sales were down 0.6% month over month but up 14.8% year over year.

• General merchandise stores were down 4.9% month over month but up 13.6% year over year.

• Grocery and beverage stores were up 0.4% month over month and up 0.3% year over year.

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