Sep 18, 2020
August retail sales continue to recover from pandemic

Retail sales continued to recover from the coronavirus pandemic in August, showing a gradual improvement from July and larger gains year-over-year, the National Retail Federation said.

“While August retail sales numbers were a bit mixed, we believe the consumer is resilient and is in good shape as we head into the holiday season,” Matthew Shay, president and CEO for NRF said. “Over the past several months, consumers have responded well to federal relief measures that have supported the recovery, so it comes as no surprise that they would take a pause on spending as some of these programs tapered off at the end of July. We continue to advocate for additional stimulus measures to help the economy recover. With the holidays quickly approaching, our retailers are prepared to serve customers to meet all of their holiday needs and are embracing the new holiday tradition of shopping early.”

“August was topsy-turvy as COVID-19 brought a lot of shifts and uncertainty regarding back-to-school spending and other issues but consumer spending remains intact even if sales grew less than July,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for NRF. “Retail spending habits have remained largely consistent and stable these past few months since stores began to reopen. Some consumers likely reduced their spending with the end of the $600 supplemental unemployment benefits for those out of work, but a building-up of savings from that and other government cash helped support spending. At this juncture, it is difficult to sort out how much economic activity is due to government support and how much is evidence of hardcore demand due to recent job gains. August numbers might have been higher if not for small businesses struggling with reopening and the return to full operations.”

The U.S. Census Bureau said that overall retail sales during August were up 0.6% seasonally adjusted from July and up 2.6% year-over-year. That follows a 0.9% month-over-month increase in July. Retail sales have been climbing after a record monthly drop while most stores were closed in April.

NRF’s calculation of retail sales – which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants in order to focus on core retail – showed August was up 0.1% seasonally adjusted from July and up 5.6% unadjusted year-over-year. NRF’s results are different from the Census Bureau’s figures because of the categories excluded by NRF.

The August NRF numbers build on a 0.6% monthly increase and 9.6 percent year-over-year increase in July. NRF’s numbers were up 8.5% unadjusted year-over-year on a three-month moving average.

Just over half of retail categories saw month-over-month gains and two-thirds saw year-over-year increases. The biggest monthly gain came at clothing stores, but their sales remained far below last year.

Specifics from key retail sectors during August include:

  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 2.9% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but down 23.5% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 2.1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 0.4% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were up 2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 11.9% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Electronics and appliance stores were up 0.8% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but down 3.4% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Online and other non-store sales were unchanged month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 20.1% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Health and personal care stores were up 0.8% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 3.3% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • General merchandise stores were down 0.4% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and down 0.2% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Grocery and beverage stores were down 1.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 8.3% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sporting goods stores were down 5.7% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 8% unadjusted year-over-year.

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