September Retail Sales Mark 4th Consecutive Month of Growth

Lisa Johnston
Senior Editor
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Retail and food service sales rose 1.9% from August to September, the U.S. Census Bureau reported, reaching $549.3 billion.

This seasonally adjusted figure is up 5.4% vs. the prior-year period and represents the fourth consecutive month of growth since the onset of the pandemic.

Among the growers for September vs. August:   

Clothing and clothing accessories: Up 11%
Sporting goods, hobby, musical instruments and books: Up 5.7%
Health and personal care: Up 1.7%
Building material, garden and supplies: Up 0.6%
Furniture and home furnishing stores: Up 0.5%

Just one category dropped for the period — electronics and appliance stores, which decreased 1.6%.

Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist of the National Retail Federation, said the data points to a nation that’s on a path to recovery, with less spending on things like travel shifting toward retail.

“Retail sales are continuing to build on the momentum we’ve seen through the summer and have been boosted by an improving labor market, a rebound in consumer confidence and elevated savings,” he noted. “A significant number of people remain unemployed, but more are going back to work and that makes them confident about spending September retail sales reflect the support of government measures and elevated savings that is being spent now that consumers are shopping again.”

Deborah Weinswig, CEO and founder of Coresight Research, described the growth numbers as solid.

“The home improvement and gardening craze isn’t over, and home improvement retailers can capitalize on buy-online-pickup-in-store to continue to boost sales this holiday season,” she said, noting that Home Depot saw digital sales grow 100% in its most recent quarter, with 60% of them BOPIS or home delivery orders fulfilled by stores.

Alex Fitzgerald, a principal at strategy consultancy Kearney, echoed this, calling the numbers encouraging and noting that they demonstrate the strongest August to September gains for clothing retail and department stores.

“The release of these numbers is especially relevant as retailers are in the midst of scenario planning for holiday 2020 and many third-party consumer surveys are suggesting that consumers plan to spend less. This provides another, more optimistic data point for the retailers to triangulate against,” she said.

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