Retail sales in the US rose “dramatically” in May as retailers and other businesses began reopening, indicated the National Retail Federation (NRF). However, sales remained well below spending levels seen during the same period in 2019.
NRF’s calculation of retail sales – which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants in order to focus on core retail – showed May was up 11% seasonally adjusted from April and up 1.7% unadjusted year-over-year.
“Today’s sales report is very encouraging news at a time when we need to focus on what will happen as retail doors open once again,” stated NRF president & CEO, Matthew Shay. “For a sick economy, there is no better medicine than retailers responding to consumers who are ready to safely return to stores. These sales numbers do not reflect the same strength we had going into the pandemic, but they certainly reflect the trajectory we need coming out of it.”
“The most important thing now is to keep these retail stores open for business and not penalise them by closing their doors in the event of a coronavirus surge. As those stores that remained open – our economic first responders – have shown, retailers have developed solutions that protect the safety of their customers and associates, and they are sharing those lessons to the benefit of store owners large and small in communities across the country,” he added.
Every category of retail saw month-over-month gains, with some of them dramatic, especially among retailers that had been mostly closed the month before. For instance, clothing stores were up 188%, while furniture stores were up 89.7% and sporting goods stores were up 88.2%. But year-over-year gains online and at retailers that had remained open such as grocery stores and drug stores were largely offset by drops in other categories. For example, electronics and appliance stores were up 50.5% month-over-month seasonally adjusted, but down 30.9% unadjusted year-over-year.
On the other hand, online and other non-store sales were up 9% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 25.3% unadjusted year-over-year. Grocery and beverage stores were up 2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 14.3% unadjusted year-over-year. Health and personal care stores were up 0.4% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but down 12.6% unadjusted year-over-year.
“The economy kicked off in May as retailers and other businesses reopened and both stimulus money and supplemental unemployment checks fuelled spending driven by pent-up demand from two months of shutdowns,” observed Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist, NRF. “But full recovery is still a long way off. Comparisons against April have to be taken in context because April was a full month when almost everything that wasn’t deemed ‘essential’ was shut down. Spending has improved considerably but it’s still far below where it was a year ago, and while the freefall in consumer confidence is over, unemployment remains high and confidence is still at recession levels.”
“Going forward, wallets are primed, increased foot traffic shows that consumers are returning to stores, and retailers are ready to meet their demand, but we are likely to remain on a roller coaster for a while. What we need to look at is the trajectory of employment and the direction of the virus. There’s hope for a turnaround in the economy in the third quarter but if the virus has a reawakening, we’re going to see some serious situations for consumers,” he concluded.