Retail sales unexpectedly rise in September

Marianne Wilson
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American consumers kept shopping in September despite rising prices, supply chain disruption, the Delta variant and the end of enhanced unemployment benefits.

Core retail sales in September rose 0.7%, according to the National Retail Federation, whose calculations excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants. Analysts had expected September sales to decline 0.2%.  

Compared with a year ago, sales were up 11%, the NRF said. For the first nine months of the year, sales increased 14.5% over the year-ago period, which is in line with NRF’s revised 2021 sales forecast.

The increases in September were across all but two sectors and led by clothing, electronics and general merchandise stores. The only two sectors to experience declines were electronics stores and beauty and personal care stores.

“The reopening of the economy was interrupted by COVID-19 and consumer spending other than retail hit a speed bump toward the end of summer,” NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Consumers remained active, but retail sales didn’t reflect as much of a shift away from goods to services as expected. That was a plus for retail because consumers still have a hyper-ability to spend thanks to wage and job gains and the household savings built up during the pandemic.”

In addition, Kleinhenz said that some back-to-school spending may have spilled over from August into September because of school districts that delayed opening until after Labor Day.

“Overall, the September report is very promising for a strong finish for the year,” he said. “Nonetheless, rising inflation and slower supply chains remain a concern. Spending might have been higher if not for shortages of items consumers are eager to purchase.”

Specifics from key sectors for September are below.

  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 1.1% month-over-month and up 22.5% year-over-year. 
  • Electronics and appliance stores were down 0.9% month-over-month but up 17.3% year-over-year.
  • General merchandise stores were up 2% month-over-month and up 14.1% year-over-year.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 0.2% month-over-month and up 13.7% year-over-year.
  • Sporting goods stores were up 3.7% month-over-month and up 13% year-over-year.
  • Online and other non-store sales were up 0.6% month-over-month and up 10.5% year-over-year.
  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 0.7% month-over-month and up 7.4% year-over-year.
  • Health and personal care stores were down 1.4% month-over-month but up 6.9% year-over-year.
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were up 0.1% month-over-month and up 6.2% year-over-year.

NRF’s numbers were up 10.7% unadjusted year-over-year on a three-month moving average.