National retail sales dropped a seasonally adjusted 16.4% in April, the first full month of store closures from the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to March, the National Retail Federation reported. Sales were down 21.6% unadjusted compared to the same time a year ago.
The results exclude auto dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.
Sales nationally dropped almost twice as much during April as they did in March, the federation reported.
NRF economist Jack Kleinhenz cautioned that the reliability of April’s numbers could be questionable because many retailers whose stores were closed were not able to respond to the Census Bureau’s monthly survey of sales data. The unprecedented economic situation also makes it difficult to seasonally adjust the data for the fluctuations in sales that normally come in predictable cycles throughout the year, he said.
Kleinhenz said relief payments to retailers and pent-up consumer demand should provide a post-shutdown rebound but he said spending will be far from normal and may be choppy heading forward.
Most retail categories but three showed drops in year-over-year April sales except for online sales, up 21.2% unadjusted; grocery, up 13.3%; and building materials and garden supplies, up 1.2%.
In Washington State as elsewhere around the nation, Governor Jay Inslee has begun permitting specific counties to reopen for limited in-store shopping after granting limited curbside sales. The reopening of stores in up to 22 of the state’s 39 counties so far is offering retailers hope of beginning to recover sales lost when they were required to close the past two months to curb the spread of the virus.