SpendingPulse: retail sales up 9.2% in January

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PURCHASE, N.Y. — Retail sales grew 9.2% in January, with gains across nearly all sectors and in all 50 states, 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 9.2% year-over-year, with online sales growing 62.1% compared to 2020, the report found. The momentum of a stronger-than-anticipated holiday season continued throughout the month, with consumer spending buoyed by an infusion of stimulus payments, particularly in the first two weeks of the year.

“We’re living in a digital world,” said Steve Sadove, Mastercard senior advisor and former CEO of Saks Inc. “For consumers, e-commerce has emerged as a lifeline and a lifestyle. January’s numbers are just further proof of this ongoing trend. A big, bright note from January is that consumers are spending. While we know that consumers are also saving their stimulus funds and paying down debt, these numbers show that stimulus is helping to boost sales for retailers around the country.”

Other findings from the report include:

  • Home is Where the Spending Still Is: Spending in and around the home remains a top consumer priority, with Furniture & Furnishings (+16.6%) posting its eighth straight month of solid gains. Home categories, along with Grocery, have seen some of the biggest category lifts following stimulus payments.
  • Consumers Start to Refresh their Wardrobes: Following months of working and schooling from home, we’re starting to see consumers invest in their wardrobe again—with Specialty Apparel online sales up +52.5% in January. Although the sector is still down (-4.3%), this is the smallest year-over-year decline experienced since the pandemic began impacting sales in March 2020.
  • A Positive Sign for Department Stores: The Department Store sector experienced its first year-over-year increase in sales (+1.5%) since 2019, boosted by strong online sales (+27.9%).
  • Gasoline Sales Reflect Restricted Mobility in January: No sector has been a clearer bellwether of consumers’ mobility this past year than Gasoline sales, with negative year-over-year growth since mid-March 2020. While the declines eased over the summer months, Covid-19 restrictions as well as winter weather led to a further deterioration in gasoline demand in January.

The Mastercard SpendingPulse analysis found that growth across all 50 states, although states in the southeast and the west are driving the largest total retail sales increases. More outdoor options are available in the warmer southern states and online sales growth has surged in the western states, according to the report, which noted that online sales in California grew 77.4%, helping to lift overall retail sales in that state by 7.9%.


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