Grocery Offers Bright Spot During Dismal March
Overall retail sales in March are nothing to cheer about as stay-at-home orders and business closures due to the coronavirus changed consumer spending dramatically. The U.S. Census Bureau reports sales were down 8.7% seasonally adjusted from February and down 6.2% unadjusted year-over-year.
The difference between sales of essential goods and nonessential items, however, was huge in numbers released by the National Retail Federation (NRF). Grocery and beverage stores were up 25.6% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 25.7% unadjusted year-over-year. General merchandise stores were up 6.4% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 5.7% unadjusted year-over-year. Health and personal care stores, online and other non-store sales, and building materials and garden supply stores all saw single digit increases.
“COVID-19 has hit the retail industry unevenly,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “This is a market of haves and have-nots. The haves are the stores that remain open with lines out the doors to buy daily necessities while the have-nots are the stores that have closed and are taking the brunt of the impact of the pandemic. These numbers should come as no surprise given the mandated shutdown of our economy to slow the spread of the virus.”
Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 50.5% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and down 52% unadjusted year-over-year. Furniture and home furnishings stores, sporting goods stores and electronics and appliance stores were all down double digits.
The million-dollar question now is when the U.S. economy will reopen, and NRF has been informing President Trump's Advisory Group on the subject.
“When the health conditions are right for reopening, our members will be ready to provide service to customers with effective safeguards and protocols in place," said Matthew Shay, NRF president and CEO, after participating on the White House call for the initiation of the Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups. “We commend President Trump for convening this group and look forward to continuing our collaboration with the Administration, Congressional and state leaders, and the professional medical community to reopen our economy and put America back to work.”