August Retail Sales Return to Earth

By Alan Wolf, YSN

Consumers took a breather in August from the shopping frenzy of recent months.

According to the latest retail sales tally from the U.S. Census Bureau, overall sell-through in August (excluding gas stations, car dealers and restaurants) was up 0.6 percent from July following a 0.9 percent increase the previous month, and was ahead 2.6 percent year over year.

In BrandSource’s neck of the woods, sales at appliance and electronics stores rose 0.8 percent from July but were down 2.4 percent from last year, while furniture and home furnishings stores enjoyed a 2.1 percent increase over July and a 3.8 percent gain from August 2019.

Home improvement chains also fared well last month, up 2 percent from July and 15.4 percent year over year, although sales for e-tailers and other direct sellers were flat from July amid a 22.4 percent spike from the prior-year period.

The pause on spending should come as no surprise following a spring and early summer that neared or broke sales records for many BrandSource members. Their anecdotal accounts are supported by Census Bureau figures showing a stunning 47.3 percent increase in appliance and electronics store sales, and a 58.3 percent rise in furniture and home furnishings revenue, from the March-May to June-August periods.

August, however, was “topsy-turvy as COVID-19 brought a lot of shifts and uncertainty regarding back-to-school spending and other issues,” observed Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the National Retail Federation (NRF), the world’s largest retail trade association. “Some consumers likely reduced their spending with the end of the $600 supplemental unemployment benefits for those out of work, but a building-up of savings from that and other government cash helped support spending.”

Kleinhenz said consumer spending remains intact even if sales grew less than in July, although it is difficult to determine how much economic activity is due to government support and how much is evidence of hardcore demand due to recent job gains.

Still, NRF president/CEO Matthew Shay assured retailers that “While August retail sales numbers were a bit mixed, we believe the consumer is resilient and is in good shape as we head into the holiday season.”

Shay added that the trade association continues to advocate for additional stimulus measures to help the economy recover.