Retail sales posted double-digit gains in March

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Year-over-year comparisons showed pandemic's impact

PURCHASE, N.Y. — U.S. retail sales grew by double-digits in March as the nation marked the one-year anniversary of the first lockdowns imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment, U.S. retail sales excluding automotive and gasoline increased 26.3% year-over-year in March, and online sales grew 56.8% compared to 2020. Retail sales benefited from the infusion of stimulus payments, coupled with broader reopening of businesses across the country.

The year-over-year comparisons show how disparate the pandemic’s impact was on retailers’ business, particularly in the early days. Sales in the first half of March increased just 1.6% compared to the same time a year ago, when consumers were hitting the stores and stocking up in the face of the pandemic.
During the second half of the month, retail sales rose 46.9% year-over-year, the MasterCard SpendingPulse study found, noting that this growth reflects both the positive boost of the stimulus payments on consumer spending as well as the lockdowns that weakened retail sales across the country in the same period in 2020.
The unique retail scenario of last March is also seen in the year-over-year comparison for the sectors.

For instance, in March 2020, discretionary sectors such as Apparel and Jewelry experienced a dip in spending when people first started social distancing; this has led to significantly elevated growth rates this March.

Essential sectors, such as grocery, have seen the opposite situation — sales surged last year as consumers stocked up, but grocery sales fell into negative growth territory this month when compared to the strong growth in March 2020. Grocery sales are up (+7.5%) when compared to March 2019, however.


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