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Consumers pull back on spending in May

Retail sales increased 7.3% year-over-year for the first five months of the year, according to the NRF.

U.S. retail spending stalled in May as consumers dealt with continuing inflation for food and other essentials and high prices at the pump.

Retail sales in May were flat with April but up 6.7% year-over-year, according to the National Retail Federation, which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants from its metrics. In April, sales inched up 0.4% month-over-month and rose 5% year-over-year.

Sales increased 7.3% year-over-year for the first five months of the year, the NRF noted.

Overall retail sales in May were down 0.3% seasonally adjusted from April's downwardly revised 0.7% increase, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which includes autos, gasoline stations and bars/restaurants. The decline was mostly due to car purchases, which fell 3.5%. Excluding autos, sales were up 0.5%. On a yearly basis, sales were up 8.1%.

“There’s been little relief from inflation, and we expected some cooling off in sales in reaction to prices,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. “There have been swings across sectors that reflect the impact of both higher prices and supply chain disturbances, and higher interest rates are expected to curb spending going forward.”

The NRF said it is continuing to urge the Biden administration to eliminate the Trump-era tariffs on goods from China to ease inflation and relieve pressure on American consumers and their family budgets.

May sales fell in nearly half the categories on a monthly basis. They were up in eight out of nine categories on a yearly basis, led by building materials stores (up 8.8%), online sales (8.5%) and grocery stores (up 7.1%).

Specifics from key sectors for May sales month-over-month sales are below.

  • Building materials and garden supply stores were up 0.2%.
  • Online and other non-store sales were down 1.0%.
  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 1.2%.
  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 0.1%.
  • Health and personal care stores were down 0.2%.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 0.9%.
  • Sporting goods stores were up 0.4%.
  • General merchandise stores were up 0.1%. 
  • Electronics and appliance stores were down 1.3%.
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