Retail Sales See January Jump

Lisa Johnston
Senior Editor
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U.S. retail sales jumped higher than expected in January, spurred by consumer spending from government stimulus checks.

Sales reached $568.2 billion, according to the Commerce Department, up 5.3% from December 2020 and up 7.4% year over year. That's the largest monthly increase since sales spiked 8.4% in June. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones were expecting a rise of just 1.2%.

Total sales for the November through January period grew 4.6% year over year.

Retail trade sales were up 5.1% from December 2020 and 10.8% year over year, while e-commerce retail sales skyrocketed 28.7% year over year.

Other bright spots in the year-over-year figures include:

  • Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument and book stores: Up 22%
  • Building material and garden supplies: Up 13.7%
  • Food and beverage stores: Up 11.6%
  • Furniture and home furnishing stores: Up 9.3%
  • General merchandise stores: Up 7.8%

It wasn’t all good news, as electronics and appliance stores dropped 4.1%, and clothing and clothing accessory stores sunk 11.3%, and food service store sales also dropped 15.8% year over year. However, even these categories all recorded gains from December, and the overall figures are a positive indicator for the year ahead, National Retail Federation president and CEO Matthew Shay said.

“Consumers and the economy as a whole remain in good shape despite unprecedented adversity over the past year, and congressional action has been a lifeline for households and businesses disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” he said. “We’ve convened retail leaders and communicated directly with the White House that it is critically important for the government to work with retailers to get the vaccine into communities and administered as quickly and as safely as possible.”

Jack Kleinhenz, NRF chief economist, noted that January figures didn’t experience the falloff in spending that’s typically accompanied by the post-holiday period. “The increase was even better than expected,” he added. “There is plenty of purchasing power available for most consumers, and the pickup in shopping has even been reflected in the number of hours worked by retail employees. Confidence is building thanks to the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and states and local governments are beginning to remove restrictions on economic activity. Going forward, I expect consumer spending to build on this momentum.”

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