Economists' Outlook

Housing stats and analysis from NAR's research experts.

Instant Reaction: Retail Trade Sales March 16, 2021

U.S. retail and food services sales, a measure of consumer purchases at stores, restaurants and online, declined by a seasonally adjusted 3.0% in February from the prior month as sales were $561.7 billion. February’s month-over-month deceleration in retail sales is not concerning as it sank from an untypical January high for which was aided by the easing of some pandemic-related restrictions, government stimulus package and vaccine distribution as holidays sales carried over into the beginning of the new year.

While there are numerous elements that contributed to the fall in sales in February e.g., winter storms across the northeast and snow/ice storms in the south, Februarys’ sales wont significantly alter retails post-pandemic recovery. With additional economic impact payments entering consumers bank accounts amid increasing personal consumption expenditures, as vaccines continue to become more widely distributed, vaccinations record 2.4 million shots per day currently, and a larger share of U.S. consumers vaccinated increases, we hold a positive outlook for retail as the pandemic will hopefully become less threatening in the second-half of this year.

Although February saw month-over-month declines in every category except food & beverage stores, gasoline stations and grocery stores, it is difficult to consider this a reversal of current progress when considering year-over-year sales and that sales are now significantly higher than prior to the pandemic. Retail and food services sales are up 6.3% year-over-year and retail trade sales are up 9.5% above last years sales. With the majority of categories up on a year-over-year basis, the largest year-over-year increases were seen in nonstore retailers, 25.9%, and sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, & book stores, 15.4%. That largest year-over-year declines were seen in food service & drinking places, -17.0%, and department stores, -14.5%.