Mastercard: April retail sales up 23.3%; trends indicate recovering economy

Restaurant sector posts second straight month of growth
Marianne Wilson
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Retail sales continue to benefit from stimulus payments, coupled with warmer weather and broader reopening across the country. 

Total U.S. retail sales posted another month of double-digit growth in April, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures U.S. in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment. Retail sales (excluding automotive and gasoline) rose 23.3% year-over-year in April, and were up 10.8% compared to April 2019. Online sales in April grew 19.9% and 95.6%, respectively, compared to the same periods.

April also marks the second consecutive month of positive growth for the restaurant category.  Spending at restaurants grew 118.8% in April versus the year-ago period when widespread shut-downs crippled the industry, and were up 5.7% compared 2019.

“April's retail sales growth reinforces that the American consumer is healthy and eager to spend, especially on categories such as restaurants, which have faced restrictions over the past year,” said Steve Sadove, Mastercard senior advisor and former CEO of Saks. “There are a lot of factors at play including stimulus funds, pent-up demand, and the desire to reconnect with friends and family. The fact is that people are excited to gather again and they're refreshing their look for the occasion.”

While the recovery has not been universal or consistent – due to geographical, economic and household differences – there are a number of key overarching trends reported by Mastercard, which are listed below.

• Restaurants are rebounding. Limited-service restaurants, such as fast-food, were up 21.7% compared to 2019, outpacing their full-service counterparts.

• Despite the record-shattering e-commerce growth in April 2020, online sales remained up year-over-year. E-commerce share continues to make up a bigger portion of total retail spend overall (21.6%), as well as in categories such as apparel (61.7%), department stores (21.0%) and jewelry (15.7%).

• Many of the depressed sectors in 2020, including department stores (+202.7%), jewelry (+255%) and lodging (+319.1%), are showing some of the largest year-over-year gains as retailers gear up for the return of gatherings and events. Department store sales grew 9.6% compared to 2019.