U.S. Retail Sales Increased in April

Retail Sales Were Up 8.2% Year-Over-Year

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The most recent U.S. Retail Sales Report shows that retail and food service sales were up 0.9% in March from the previous month, and up 8.2% since this time last year. Total sales for February through April were up 10.8% year-over-year. Retail trade sales in April increased 0.7% from March and were up 6.7% over the year.

Key Takeaways

  • U.S. retail and food service sales were up 0.9% month-over-month in April 2022.
  • Sales were up year-over-year by 8.2%.
  • Miscellaneous store retailers saw an increase of 4% for the month.

Significant Changes in Retail Sales for March

Clothing and accessory stores saw a 0.8% increase in April and sales were up 8% annually. Sporting goods, hobbies, musical instruments, and bookstores saw a decrease of 0.5% month-over-month and a decrease of 5.4% year-over-year.

Online and other non-store sales increased by 2.1% last month but were up 12.7% since April 2021. Health and personal care stores, such as drug stores, saw an increase of 0.7% in April from the month prior and an increase of 2.1% year-over-year. Building and garden supply stores saw a month-over-month decrease of 0.1% and a 1.7% increase yearly.

Restaurant and bar sales increased by 2.0% for the month and were up 19.8% from last year. Food and beverage stores were down -0.2% month-over-month and up 7.1% adjusted year-over-year.

Car and parts dealers saw a decrease in sales of 2.2% month-over-month and an overall decrease of 1.7% year-over-year. Gas station sales were down -2.7% in April and up 36.9% since April 2021.

How Is the Retail Sales Report Used?

The U.S. Census Bureau report measures the U.S. retail industry each month by surveying around 5,500 employer firms to collect retail sales data. It shows the total sales and the percentage change for that month and reports on the percentage change in year-over-year (YOY) sales for the last 12 months.

The retail sales report includes cars and parts, furniture and furnishings, electronics and appliances, department stores, food and drink, restaurants, sporting goods and hobbies, health care items, clothing and accessories, gas stations, and building and garden supplies.

Retail Sales Indicate Trends

Retail sales signal trends in consumer spending, which drive almost 70% of economic growth. Consumer spending is part of a country's gross domestic product (GDP), which is used as a general indicator of how an economy is doing.

Since the retail sales report comes out monthly, it is a more current measurement of economic health than GDP, which is reported quarterly. You can use the retail sales report to gauge the economy if you use it in context with other issued reports and economic conditions. If reports and conditions accompany a continuous monthly increase in retail sales, there is a good chance that the economy will continue growing.

It's Used in Other Reports

The information included in the retail sales report is used to create the personal consumption expenditures index, which is one of the subcomponents of GDP.

Personal consumption expenditures include purchases of durable and nondurable goods. It also includes services like housing, health care, retail, transportation, education, and many others. To gain a measurement of spending (by consumers) to production (by the entire country), economists divide personal consumption expenditures over a period by gross domestic product for the same period. This tells them how much of GDP growth (or shrinkage) consumer spending makes up.

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

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, which eliminates the effects of inflation. The YOY 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.

It's Used by Businesses and Investors

Investors and businesses also use the retail sales report as an economic indicator to monitor the business cycle. Several economic indicators are used in conjunction to see where in the business cycle the economy is or where it might be headed. The report can help them create strategies for dealing with downswings or taking advantage of upswings.

Other Retail Reports

The National Retail Federation (NRF) surveys shoppers to find out how much they plan to spend on the major holidays. For instance, 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

The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicted retail sales for 2021 growing between 6.5% and 8.2% to more than $4.33 trillion. This reflects increasing vaccination rates and business re-openings. Online sales were expected to grow between 18% and 23% ($1.14 trillion and $1.19 trillion). The latest census data on retail sales for the year, explained above, supported the earlier NRF's forecasts.

For 2022, NRF cites the general resilience of the retail industry (in spite of supply chain issues and labor shortages), and predicts ongoing growth in retail trade. Specifically, they foresee developments in areas of retail tech (like ad media and personalization), as well as a resurgence of the brick-and-mortar store, as more consumers are venturing out and retail stores enhance their in-store shopping experiences to meet demand.

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