Retail sales up in July but uncertainty remains

Marianne Wilson
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Retail sales rose for the third straight month after a record drop in April when many stores were closed due to the pandemic.

Retail sales rose a seasonally adjusted 1% in July compared with June and were up 10% unadjusted year-over-year, according to the National Retail Federation. The figure excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.

NRF’s numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which said that overall July sales – including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants – were up 1.2% seasonally adjusted from June and up 2.7%. That follows an 8.4% month-over-month increase in June.

“Retail sales are starting the third quarter on a solid footing considering the nosedive we saw this spring, but we have to remember that there’s uncertainty about economic policy and that the resurgence of the virus is putting pressure on the fledgling recovery,” NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “While households are spending, they are anxious about their health and economic well-being, so they are being pragmatic. The amount of uncertainty about forecasting is huge as we look toward the second half of the year, and what happens with the economy comes down to what the coronavirus allows us to do.”

A little more than half of retail categories saw month-over-month gains in July. The biggest increases came at electronics and appliance stores, which are selling more computers for home offices and online learning because of expected school closings, along with more appliances associated with home improvement spending and higher home sales. 

Results for key retail sectors during July are below:

•    Electronics and appliance stores were up 22.9% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but down 2.3% unadjusted year-over-year.

•    Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 5.7% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but down 19.6% unadjusted year-over-year.

•    Health and personal care stores were up 3.6% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 3.1% unadjusted year-over-year.

•    Online and other non-store sales were up 0.7% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 25.8%   unadjusted year-over-year.

•    Grocery and beverage stores were up 0.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 12.8% unadjusted year-over-year.

•    Furniture and home furnishings stores were unchanged percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 0.5% unadjusted year-over-year.

•    General merchandise stores were down 0.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 3.1% unadjusted year-over-year.

•    Building materials and garden supply stores were down 2.9% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 16% unadjusted year-over-year.

•    Sporting goods stores were down 5% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 18.9% unadjusted year-over-year.