WASHINGTON — Traditional statistical measurements are not providing an accurate account of the retail industry’s contribution to the economy, National Retail Federation chief economist Jack Kleinhenz contended in the June issue of NRF’s Monthly Economic Review.
“In recent years, critics have claimed the retail industry is facing an existential crisis, that retail is not growing and that we are entering – if not already in – a retail apocalypse,” Kleinhenz said. “This is not an accurate picture, and the analysis driving this conclusion is incomplete. But why has this become the conventional wisdom? The lack of government data that accurately reflects the retail industry is at least partially to blame.”
Kleinhenz said government standards that only consider employees who work in stores as “retail” fail to capture the hundreds of thousands of warehouse and distribution center jobs retailers have created in recent years to support the increase in e-commerce. Similarly, monthly reports on retail sales don’t break out e-commerce sales, making it difficult to count a retailer’s online sales of clothing, for example, as part of total clothing sales through all retail channels.
Last year the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics asked the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine’s Committee on National Statistics to assess retail employment and productivity measurements and examine the creation of a satellite account that would better capture the retail industry’s transformation.
Satellite accounts pull together data in one place in order to provide a better picture of economic sectors that cross traditional statistical lines. They have been used to measure e-commerce and digital services, health care, outdoor recreation and small business, among other sectors, and the committee said those accounts could be useful examples in developing a retail satellite account.
“NRF has been a strong advocate for better retail data from government agencies and has emphasized the need to capture aspects of the industry’s transformation that are not reflected in current statistics,” Kleinhenz said. “We are hopeful that work on the creation of a retail satellite account will begin immediately, and we are prepared to bring industry perspective to assist in the launching of this essential and timely initiative.”
Wednesday’s release of the Monthly Economic Review cames as NRF prepares to update its retail sales forecast for 2021 as part of its inaugural State of Retail and the Consumer virtual event at noon EDT on June 9.