Retail Sales Plunge in March, Clothing Stores Take Biggest Hit
Retail sales saw their biggest drop on record in March as the coronavirus pandemic forced closures across restaurants, bars and many stores.
March retail sales dropped 8.7% vs. February and 6.2% year-over-year.
The largest monthly drop in retail sales every recorded was 4.3% in November of 2008 during the global financial crisis.
Last month sales at clothing and clothing accessory stores plummeted 50.5% compared to February and dropped 52% year-over-year, according to the National Retail Federation.
Sales at sporting goods stores fell 24.4% year-over-year, while grocery stores saw a surge in demand, with sales rising 25.7% year-over-year.
The bad news is April retail numbers are expected to be even worse.
“March was a month that started out with many stores still open, but far more are closed now,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Don’t be surprised if the data going forward shows a worsening situation. Even if the economy begins to reopen in May, consumer behavior may take a long time to adjust. The road to recovery could be long and slow.”
Apparel retailers are expected to struggle for the rest of the 2021.
The New York Times spoke to a retail analyst who offered a sobering assessment of the situation.
Deborah Weinswig, founder of Coresight Research, an advisory and research firm that specializes in retail and technology, said she had talked with retailers who are preparing for holiday sales to be 40 percent lower than last year.
There is one bright spot in the March retail numbers, however.
Online sales rose 3.1% vs. February as shoppers went online to buy goods, which is the only option for shopping in many categories right now.