Retail Sales Increased Slightly in August, Despite COVID-19 Headwinds

Washington, D.C. — U.S. retail sales increased in August as consumer demand outweighed the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions and other factors that affected spending. Even though there was a decrease in car sales due to shipping problems and product shortages, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that the sales for retailers and restaurants increased by 0.7 percent in August.
The chief economist for the National Retail Federation (NRF), Jack Kleinhenz, says consumers continued to heavily shop last month despite a “trifecta of macroeconomic headwinds,” including the ending of federal government stimulus, a rise of COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant and supply chain problems.
“Higher sales came even with a disjointed back-to-school season that also affected the timing of sales as many school districts returned to in-person learning but some delayed classes until after Labor Day. These results pave the way for sturdy consumer spending and a strong economy in the fourth quarter,” says Kleinhenz.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, overall retail sales in August were up 15.1 percent year-over-year. Even though some months, such as July 2021, have decreased or slowed its retail sales, the Census data shows that sales have overall grown year-over-year every month since June 2020.
NRF’s calculation of retail sales — which only focused on core retail and therefore excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants — showed August was up 2.3 percent seasonally adjusted from July.
For the first eight months of 2021, the NRF found sales were up 15 percent over the same period in 2020, which is consistent with NRF’s revised forecast that 2021 retail sales should grow between 10.5 and 13.5 percent over 2020 to between $4.44 trillion and $4.56 trillion.
On a seasonally adjusted basis, August retail sales were up in every category but two from the previous month, and also up in all categories compared to last year on an unadjusted basis. The highest gains on a monthly basis include furniture and home furnishings stores, general merchandise stores, online and other non-store sales and grocery and beverage stores.
Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 3.7 percent month-over-month and up 16.1 percent year-over-year. General merchandise stores increased 3.5 percent month-over-month and were up 13.6 percent year-over-year. Online and other non-store sales were up 5.3 percent month-over-month and up 10.6 percent year-over-year. Grocery and beverage stores were up 1.8 percent month-over-month and up 4.8 percent year-over-year.
Two retail categories decreased in sales compared to July. Sporting goods stores sales were down 2.7 percent month-over-month but increased 20.3 percent year-over-year. Electronics and appliance stores were also down by 3.1 percent month-over-month but increased 18 percent year-over-year.

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