November Retail Sales Slump

Lisa Johnston
Senior Editor
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Retail sales dipped in November as consumers put the brakes on their holiday spending.

The U.S. Commerce Department’s seasonally adjusted estimates show that monthly retail and food service sales tallied $546.5 billion, a 1.1% decrease from October but still a 4.1% increase from the prior-year period.

It also revised its October results from being up 0.3% to down 0.1%.

NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay attributed the performance to spiking virus rates, states-imposed retail restrictions, and gridlocked congressional stimulus discussions. “While consumers have been bolstered by increases in disposable income and savings, it’s clear that additional fiscal stimulus from Congress is needed and we are hopeful it will be passed soon as we enter the final stretch of the holiday season,” he said, noting that the group still expects a strong holiday season vs. 2019.

Sales changes from October included:

Furniture and home furnishing stores: Down 1.1%
Electronics and appliance stores: Down 3.5%
Building material and garden stores: Up 1.1%
Food and beverage stores: Up 1.6%
Health and person care stores: Down 0.7%
Clothing and clothing accessories stores: Down 6.8%
General merchandise stores: Down 1%
Non-store retailers: Up 0.2%

“The month-over-month decline isn’t surprising because some spending was pulled forward into October by campaigns encouraging consumers to shop early and shop safe,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. “Despite that, as we go into the final weeks of 2020, year-over-year trends show spending is holding up well regardless of month-to-month fluctuations. Nonetheless, we have to remember the remainder of the holiday season depends critically on the virus. We are optimistic, but spending could shift into a lower gear if the virus continues to spread.”

As 2020 comes to a close, the year-to-date total sales figure reflect the troubled landscape retail is facing. Clothing and accessories stores sales dropped 28.5% vs. the prior year, while electronics and appliance stores decreased 14.1%.

And as shoppers flocked to e-commerce like never before, sales for non-store retailers rose 22.6%. Grocery store sales, meanwhile, rose 11.4% as a result of pantry loading.

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