Sales cooled versus February, but were up from last March
WASHINGTON – Retail sales slowed in March, but spending was still higher than during the same time last year, the National Retail Federation said Friday.
“Retail sales moderated in March after posting strong gains in the first two months of the year,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Continued easing of inflation and the overall strength of the job market and wages are keeping the fundamentals of the consumer economy strong and should support their ability to spend on household priorities through 2023. Retailers recognize the pressure on consumers from increased prices in services and experiences, and the impact of higher interest rates, and are prioritizing product mix, competitive pricing and convenience to help consumers stretch their budgets.”
The U.S. Census Bureau today said overall retail sales in March were down 1% from February but up 2.9% year over year. In February, sales were down 0.2% month over month but up 5.9% year over year.
NRF’s calculation of retail sales – which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail – showed March was down 0.5% from February but up 4.6% unadjusted year over year. In February, sales were up 0.5% month over month and up 6.7% year over year. NRF’s numbers were up 6% unadjusted year over year on a three-month moving average as of March.
“March spending reversed the strong pace of core retail sales we saw earlier this year,”NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “These results reflect both slower economic activity and lower prices because of easing inflation – which means fewer dollars spent even if consumers buy the same number of goods – but there is still a lot of spending in the economy. Keep in mind that households tend to shop less during the post-holiday season. In addition, tax refunds typically contribute to spending at this time of year but are smaller this year than last. Nonetheless, we are still looking at positive sales growth moving forward in 2023.”
The results come as NRF is forecasting that 2023 retail sales will grow between 4% and 6% over 2022.
March sales were up in five out of nine retail categories on a yearly basis, led by online sales, health and personal care stores and grocery stores, but fell in all but three categories on a monthly basis. Specifics from key sectors include:
- Online and other non-store sales were up 1.9% month over month seasonally adjusted and up 12.4% unadjusted year over year.
- Health and personal care stores were up 0.3% month over month seasonally adjusted and up 7.3% unadjusted year over year.
- Grocery and beverage stores were down 0.1% month over month seasonally adjusted but up 5.6% unadjusted year over year.
- Sporting goods stores were up 0.2% month over month seasonally adjusted and up 3.3% unadjusted year over year.
- General merchandise stores were down 3% month over month seasonally adjusted but up 2.9% unadjusted year over year.
- Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 1.2% month over month seasonally adjusted and down 1.9% unadjusted year over year.
- Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 1.7% month over month seasonally adjusted and down 2.2% unadjusted year over year.
- Building materials and garden supply stores were down 2.1% month over month seasonally adjusted and down 4.3% unadjusted year over year.
- Electronics and appliance stores were down 2.1% month over month seasonally adjusted and down 9.9% unadjusted year over year.
NRF provides data on retail sales each month and forecasts annual retail sales and spending for key periods such as the holiday season.
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