US Retail Sales Up in August

Retail Sales Are Up 15.1% Year-Over-Year

retail sales
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The most recent U.S. Retail Sales Report shows that retail sales were up 0.7% in August and 15.1% since this time last year. Total sales for June through August were up 16.3% year-over-year, while retail trade sales increased 0.8% and were up 13.1% over the year.

Key Takeaways

  • U.S. retail sales were up 0.7% month-over-month in August 2021.
  • Sales were up year-over-year by 15.1%.
  • Miscellaneous store retailers saw an increase of 1.4% for the month.

Significant Changes in Retail Sales for August

Clothing and accessory stores saw a 0.1% increase in August, and sales were up 38.8%, adjusted year-over-year. Department store sales were up 2.4%. Sporting goods, hobbies, musical instruments, and book stores saw a decrease of 2.7% month-over-month.

Online and other non-store sales increased 5.3% last month and were up 7.5% adjusted since August 2020. Health and personal care stores, such as drug stores, saw an increase of .2% in August and a 9.4% increase year-over-year. Building and garden supply stores saw a month-over-month increase of 0.9% and a 6.3% increase yearly.

Restaurant and bar sales experienced no monthly change, but sales were up 31.9% from this time last year. Food and beverage stores were up 1.8% month-over-month and 5.7% adjusted year-over-year.

Car and parts dealers saw an increase in sales of 11.0% year-over-year and a decrease of 3.9% month-over-month. Gas station sales were up 0.2% in August and 35.7% since August 2020.

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 sales in 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.

It Indicates 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, and they eliminate 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. 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

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), retail sales in 2020 grew 6.7% from 2019 to $4.06 trillion. In addition, online sales accounted for $969.4 billion in retail sales.

The NRF's 2021 forecast predicts retail sales growing between 6.5% and 8.2% to more than $4.33 trillion. This reflects increasing vaccination rates and business reopenings. Online sales are expected to grow between 18% and 23% ($1.14 trillion and $1.19 trillion).