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Retail Industry Updates

September Retail Report a Pleasant Surprise

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Sales of apparel spurred September retail sales. (iStock/galitskaya)

Story Highlights

September sales were up 1.9% from August, more than double what was expected.

Retail sales are up 5.4% year over year.

The National Retail Federation says the V-shaped economic recovery is continuing.

Nobody was expecting much from the September retail sales report. Surprise!

The U.S. Census Bureau said Friday that retail sales in September were up 1.9% from August, more than double what was expected. Sales are also up 5.4% year over year, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

September sales were more than triple the 0.6% month-over-month increase and almost double the 2.8% year-over-year increase in August. Sales have been up both month-over-month and year-over-year each month since June following record monthly drops this spring.

The NRF said a strong rebound in apparel led a continuing V-shaped economic recovery from the pandemic.

“Retail sales showed impressive gains in September,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Consumers continue to prove their resilience and strength through this pandemic. Retailers and consumers are adapting to the current environment, embracing shopping in different ways and focusing on specific categories.”

Shay said he’s optimistic about the prospects for a strong holiday season, as people want something to look forward to and bring joy to their lives.

“While it’s been a challenging year for everyone, there’s been an enormous amount of innovation within the retail industry, and retailers have demonstrated that we can keep the economy open and operating safely,” he added.

NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said retail sales continue to build on the momentum gained through the summer and have been boosted by an improving labor market, a rebound in consumer confidence and elevated savings.

“A significant number of people remain unemployed, but more are going back to work and that makes them confident about spending,” Kleinhenz added. “September retail sales reflect the support of government measures and elevated savings that is being spent now that consumers are shopping again. With less spending on personal services such as travel and entertainment outside the home, some of that money is shifting to retail cash registers. All in all, these numbers and other economic data show the nation’s economy remains on its recovery path.”

NRF’s calculation of retail sales — which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants in order to focus on core retail — showed September was up 1.3% from August and up 12% year over year. The year-over-year gain was more than double the 5.7% year-over-year increase in August, which was unchanged from July. NRF’s numbers were up 9.2% year over year on a three-month moving average. Compared with March — the month the pandemic set in — September sales were up 5.6%.

Three-quarters of retail categories saw both month-over-month and year-over-year increases. The biggest monthly gain came at clothing stores, although their sales remained below last year, while the largest year-over-year increase was seen online. Electronics and appliance stores were the only major segment to post a decline.

Specifics from key retail sectors during September include:

• Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 11% month over month but down 12% year over year.

• Sporting goods stores were up 5.7% month over month and up 18.3% year over year.

• General merchandise stores were up 1.8% month over month and up 4.1% year over year. Department stores, a subset of the category, were up 9.7% month over month.

• Health and personal care stores were up 1.7% month over month and up 7.8% year over year.

• Building materials and garden supply stores were up 0.6% month over month and up 23.4% year over year.

• Online and other non-store sales were up 0.5% month over month and up 27% year over year.

• Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 0.5% month over month and up 7.5% year over year.

• Grocery and beverage stores were unchanged month over month but up 11.5% year over year.

• Electronics and appliance stores were down 1.6% month over month and down 6.1% year over year.

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