January Retail Sales Overcome Omicron and Inflation to Show Strong Gains

Feb 17, 2022
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Written by Washington Retail
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Retail sales powered through COVID-19’s omicron variant, inflation and other challenges to post strong increases in January, the National Retail Federation said today.

“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 CEO Matthew Shay said. “While the year ahead has challenges with inflationary pressures, labor shortages, COVID-19 impacts and uncertainty related to international tensions in Russia and China, today’s 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.”

“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.”

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The U.S. Census Bureau today said overall retail sales in January were up 3.8 percent seasonally adjusted from December and up 13 percent year-over-year. By comparison, December sales were down 2.5 percent from November but up 16.7 percent 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 percent seasonally adjusted from December and up 8.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year. In December, sales were down 3.6 percent month-over-month but up 13 percent year-over-year. NRF’s numbers were up 12.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year on a three-month moving average as of January.

January’s results follow a 14.1 percent 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 despite the pandemic and other factors.

January sales were up in all but two categories on both a monthly and yearly basis, with year-over-year gains led by clothing and building materials stores and online sales. Specifics from key sectors include:

  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 0.7 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 19.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were up 4.1 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 12.7 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Online and other non-store sales were up 14.5 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 8.9 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Health and personal care stores were down 0.7 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 7.7 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 1.1 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 7.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • General merchandise stores were up 3.6 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 6.4 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 7.2 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 1.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sporting goods stores were down 3 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and down 0.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Electronics and appliance stores were up 1.9 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted but down 3 percent unadjusted year-over-year