NEW YORK — U.S. retail sales grew by double-digits in March as the nation marked the anniversary of the first COVID-19 lockdowns.
Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment, reported that U.S. retail sales (excluding automotive and gasoline) increased 26.3% year over year in March. Online sales grew 56.8%.
The year-over-year comparisons show how disparate the pandemic’s impact was on retail businesses. Sales in the first half of March increased just 1.6% compared to the same time a year ago, when consumers were stocking up in the face of the pandemic.
During the second half of the month, retail sales rose 46.9% year over year, according to the Mastercard SpendingPulse study, which noted that the growth reflects both the positive boost of the stimulus payments on consumer spending this year as well as the lockdowns that weakened retail sales in the same period in 2020.
Discretionary sectors such as apparel and jewelry saw sales fall last year, and saw big gains this March. Essential sectors, such as grocery, have seen the opposite situation — sales surged last year as consumers stocked up, but grocery sales fell this month when compared to the strong growth in March 2020. Grocery sales are up (+7.5%) when compared to March 2019, however.