US Retail Sales Report, Current Statistics, and Recent Trends

Retail Sales Rebound in May

retail sales
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The U.S. Retail Sales Report measures the U.S. retail industry each month. The U.S. Census Bureau surveys 4,900 to collect retail sales data. It shows the total sales and the percent change for that month. It also reports on the percent change in year-over-year sales for the last 12 months.

Current Statistics

U.S. retail sales rose by 17.7% in May 2020. Non-essential retailers reopened after closing in April to keep people safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

Clothing store sales rebounded 188% for the month, although still down 66.6% for the year. Furniture store sales rose 89.7%. Sporting goods and hobby store sales increased by 88.2%.

Department stores rose by 36.9%. Many well-known department stores had declared bankruptcy in May due to high debt entering the pandemic. These include J. Crew, JCPenney, and Neiman Marcus.   These stores plan to remain in business.

Restaurant and bar sales were up 29.1%, as many reopened inside dining with social distancing.

Gas station sales rose by 12.8%. The Census Bureau doesn't adjust its statistics for inflation. In 2019, oil prices drove 54% of gas prices. The latest oil price forecast is for higher oil prices.

Drug stores, an essential service, only saw an increase in sales of 0.4%. Auto dealers' revenue was up 46.2%. Building material and garden supply store sales rose by 10.9%.

Grocery stores, an essential service, only saw their sales increase by 1.3% in May.

Online sales increased by 9.0% as people shopped from home.

Year-over-year retail sales were down 10.5%. That's a far cry from the 3% retail sales growth generated by a healthy economy.

Retail sales signal trends in consumer spending. It drives almost 70% of economic growth. The industry supplies 52 million jobs. In addition to retail, personal consumption expenditures include services, like housing and health care. 

The Retail Sales Report Predicts Economic Growth

Retail sales are used to predict consumer spending trends. That's because the report comes out monthly. U.S. economic growth, as measured by gross domestic product, is reported quarterly. Therefore, the retail sales report is a more current measurement of economic health.

You can use the retail sales report to predict GDP before that news comes out. Keep in mind that the retail sales report doesn't adjust for inflation, while GDP does.

To predict GDP, look at year-over-year retail sales. 

GDP is an annualized number. GDP growth compares this annualized figure to the prior year. 

Keep in mind that GDP growth uses real GDP figures. They eliminate the effects of inflation. The year-over-year retail sales reports use nominal GDP figures. GDP growth reports and YOY retail reports could have significant differences if inflation is very high or if there is deflation

When using the retail sales report for forecasting, you should also look at other statistics. Most importantly, look at orders for durable goods. That's another great leading economic indicator. 

About 20% of annual retail sales occur during the holiday season.

Pay attention to forecasts for specific holiday sales. The National Retail Federation surveys shoppers to find out how much they plan to spend on the major holidays. The report on Halloween spending provides early clues for the holiday shopping season. The NRF also reports on retail sales for Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and Back to School. 

Retail Sales Outlook

In March 2020, the National Retail Federation predicted that the industry will lose $430 billion in revenues in the third quarter of 2020. At least 630,000 non-essential retail outlets closed during the pandemic. Simon, the largest U.S. mall operator, closed over 200 shopping centers.

In February 2020, the NRF had predicted 2020 retail sales would grow between 3.5%-4.1%. That was before most states issued shelter-in-place orders.

Jan Rogers Kniffen, a retail industry consultant, estimated that 30 well-known brands might be forced to file for bankruptcy protection. Many retailers will have trouble meeting loan obligations. Apparel retailers will have a hard time selling out-of-season apparel. They may have to cancel orders with manufacturers.

Most retailers will recover once the shelter-in-place orders are lifted. That will happen gradually, so as not to overwhelm hospitals with too many new COVID-19 cases. A real recovery won't occur until a safe and effective vaccine is developed. In this pandemic, the future of retail depends on a virus.

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Article Sources

  1. U.S. Census Bureau. "Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services." Accessed June 16, 2020.

  2. International Council of Shopping Centers. "What Retailers Are Doing During the Pandemic." Accessed May 16, 2020.

  3. Nieman Marcus Group. "Neiman Marcus Group Enters into a Restructuring Support Agreement with a Significant Majority of its Creditors to Substantially Reduce Debt and Position the Company for Long-Term Growth." Accessed May 16, 2020.

  4. J.Crew. "J.Crew Group, Inc. Announces Comprehensive Agreement to Deleverage Balance Sheet and Position J.Crew and Madewell for Long-Term Profitable Growth." Accessed May 16, 2020.

  5. JCPenney. "JCPenney to Reduce Debt and Strengthen Financial Position Through Restructuring Support Agreement." Accessed May 16, 2020.

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  13. PYMNTS. "Coronavirus Closures Affect 630,000 Retail Businesses." Accessed May 16, 2020.

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  15. National Retail Federation. "NRF Says Consumers Continue to Drive Economy, Forecasts Retail Sales Will Grow 3.5%-4.1%." Accessed May 16, 2020.