The National Retail Federation said that despite the largest monthly drop ever in overall retail sales, grocery and beverage store sales went up by more than 25% during the month of March as compared to February. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, March retail and foodservice totaled about $483 billion, down 8.7% from February and 6.2% from March 2019.
The two organizations calculate retail sales a little differently (the NRF calculation excludes automobile dealers, fuel stations and restaurants in order to focus on core retail), but the end result was about the same. Retailers other than grocers and beverage stores typically saw a significant drop in sales during the month. The categories excluded in the NRF’s figures took big hits as well, as restaurant and bars were largely closed, gas sales were impacted by fewer people driving, and auto dealers didn’t have many customers due to the stay-at-home orders.
“These number should come as no surprise, given the mandated shutdown of our economy to slow the spread of the virus,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz.
The NRF also reported that general merchandise stores, which include warehouse clubs, edged up 6.4% in March, while health and personal care stores, which include pharmacies, advanced 4.3%.
Stores that experienced some of the biggest sales decreases for the month included clothing (50.5%), furniture (26.8%), sporting goods (23.3%), and electronics and appliance (15.1%) stores.
Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, accounting for 52 million workers, or one in four U.S. jobs.