Home Economy Retail sales plunge 14.1% nationwide in April, NRF says

Retail sales plunge 14.1% nationwide in April, NRF says


With nearly all stores closed nationwide in April – the first full month of the mandatory COVID-19 shutdowns enacted by states – retail sales plummeted twice as much during the month as they did in March.

retail sales downHowever, online and other nonstore sales were up 21.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year and up 8.4 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

The report by the National Retail Federation of Washington, D.C., which excluded automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, showed April was down 14.1 percent seasonally adjusted from March and down 8.7 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

But now with many businesses starting to reopen in select states, and consumers having received federal payments, “pent-up demand should provide some degree of post-shutdown rebound, but spending will be far from normal and may be choppy going forward,” National Retail Federation Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said.

“I’m still of the opinion that we went into this with the economy on a sound footing and that we will hopefully come out of it the same,” Kleinhenz said. “But we’re going to need more data to tell us whether the underpinnings of the economy have been damaged and how badly. We need to carefully watch the data and learn to understand what it is telling us.”

On May 15, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that overall retail sales during April were down 16.4 percent seasonally adjusted from March and down 21.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year. That follows a record-setting 8.3 percent month-over-month drop in March.

The NRF numbers show less of a decline than the Census Bureau because the categories it excluded in its survey were among those most affected as fewer people were driving and most restaurants were limited to take-out orders if not entirely closed.

Kleinhenz also placed another caveat on April’s numbers due to the fact that many retailers whose businesses were closed were not in their offices to respond to the Census Bureau’s monthly survey of sales data. In addition, he said the shutdowns due to the pandemic make it difficult to seasonally adjust the data for sales fluctuations that normally occur.

According to the NRF report, every category of retail except online was down in April, including grocery stores and others that had seen a surge in March as consumers stocked up. Online, grocery stores and building materials were the only categories that saw a year-over-year gain.

The report found that the following took major hits:

  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 89.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year and down 78.8 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 66.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year and down 58.7 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Electronics and appliance stores were down 64.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year and down 60.6 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Sporting goods stores were down 48.7 percent unadjusted year-over-year and down 38 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • General merchandise stores were down 13.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year and down 20.8 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Health and personal care stores were down 10.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year and down 15.2 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

And on the positive side:

  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 13.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year, but down 13.1 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were up 1.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year, but down 3.5 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.


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