WASHINGTON — Omicron, inflation and bad weather in much of the country were not enough to stop consumers from shopping in January, according to figures from the Census Bureau and the National Retail Federation (NRF). Retail sales posted strong gains in January despite those and other challenges.
“January’s numbers show that 2022 is starting very strong for consumers and retailers, especially on the heels of a record holiday season and record sales in 2021,” NRF president and chief executive officer Matthew Shay said on Wednesday. “While the year ahead has challenges with inflationary pressures, labor shortages, COVID-19 impacts and uncertainty related to international tensions in Russia and China, these numbers show that despite these concerns, consumers are spending, and the economy remains in good shape. We are confident that retail sales growth and overall consumer financial health can continue, and current pressures in the economy should be moderated if election-year political pressures don’t result in policy decisions that compound the challenges our economy is already facing.”
The Census Bureau reported that overall retail sales in January were up 3.8% seasonally adjusted from December and up 13% year over year. By comparison, December sales were down 2.5% from November but up 16.7% year over year. Despite occasional month-over-month declines, sales have grown year over year every month since June 2020, according to Census data.
NRF’s calculation of retail sales — which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail — showed January was up 4.7% seasonally adjusted from December and up 8.5% unadjusted year over year. In December, sales were down 3.6% month over month but up 13% year over year. NRF’s numbers were up 12.5% unadjusted year over year on a three-month moving average as of January. Grocery and beverage stores were up 1.1% month over month in January and up 7.2% year over year.
“January sales overcame major headwinds that make the results all the more impressive,” NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “A triad of forces weighed on consumer behavior and spending as weather slammed a large portion of the United States, the omicron variant was relentless and inflation was escalating. On top of that, the enhanced child care tax credit ceased at the end of 2021, impacting millions of families. Despite all that, consumers ramped up spending even after a record-breaking holiday season.”
January’s results follow a 14.1% year-over-year increase in retail sales as calculated by NRF during the November-December 2021 holiday season. Both the rate of growth and the $886.7 billion spent during the holidays were new records.