Economists' Outlook

Housing stats and analysis from NAR's research experts.

Instant Reaction: Retail Trade Sales, December 17, 2020

Seasonally adjusted advanced estimates of United States retail and food services sales decreased from October sales figures and represents the 2nd consecutive month of decreasing sales. Retail and foodservice sales are estimated at $546.5 billion, which is a 1.1% decrease from prior month figures but up 4.1% year-over-year.

Retail trade sales declined 0.8% from the prior month but were up 7.1% from the same period a year ago. Declining for the 2nd consecutive month, prior to retail trade sales declining month-over-month in October, the last time it did so was back in April. With online sales surging in October as retailers offered holiday sales sooner, thus stretching out the holiday shopping season, some of the retail shopping strength was pulled forward from November. November estimates come as no surprise and were anticipated as a result of the combination of the aforementioned in addition to increases in COVID-19 cases and the lack of a stimulus package.

Recent data of retail sales on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday indicate new record highs, and as such non-store retailers continue to outpace other subsectors of retail trade as non-store retailers were up 29.2% year-over-year, marginally increasing over the prior month. Following non-store retailers, sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores recorded 19.6% year-over-year. Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers were up as well by 18.7% year-over-year.

Department stores continued their downward trend for November as it has not had a positive year-over-year increase year-to-date. Department stores recorded a 19.0% decrease year-over-year for the month of November. Food services and drinking places record the second largest year-over-year decrease for November, estimated at a reduction of 17.1% year-over-year and has not had a positive year-over-year increase since February 2020 at a 5.0% year-over-year increase.

On a month-over-month basis, there were only increases in building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers, food and beverage stores, and non-store retailers at 1.1%, 1.5%, and 0.1% respectively. The largest month-over-month percent decrease was seen in department stores, -7.7%. Food services and drinking places also continued their month-over-month decline with a 3.9% reduction from the prior month.