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Retail Industry Updates

U.S. Retail Sales Make Huge Year-Over-Year Gains in March

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Apparel sales were much better this March than in March of 2020.

The world didn’t stop spinning in March 2020, but it sure felt like it. When the pandemic hit and businesses began to shut down, everybody knew the economy was going to take a hit.

But a year later, the economy is rebounding nicely. U.S. retail sales in March, excluding automotive and gasoline, increased 26.3% when compared to March 2020, according to a report from Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment. Online retail sales grew 56.8% in March when compared to March 2020.

Retail sales benefited from the infusion of stimulus payments, coupled with a broader reopening across the country, Mastercard SpendingPulse found. This is particularly evident when looking at the first and second halves of the month:

• Sales in the first half of March increased 1.6% versus a year ago when consumers were hitting the stores and stocking up in the face of the pandemic.

• In comparison, during the second half of the month, retail sales rose 46.9% year over year. This growth reflects both the positive boost of the stimulus payments on consumer spending as well as the lockdowns that weakened retail sales across the country in the same period in 2020.

The unique retail scenario of last March is also seen in the year-over-year comparison for the sectors. For instance, in March 2020, discretionary sectors such as apparel and jewelry experienced a dip in spend when people first started social distancing, which has led to significantly elevated growth rates this March, according to Mastercard Spending Pulse.

Essential sectors, such as grocery, faced the opposite situation as sales surged last year as consumers stocked up. Grocery fell into negative growth territory this March when compared to the strong growth in March 2020. Grocery sales are up 7.5% when compared to March 2019, however.

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