Retail Sales Down 1.3% in May but Accessories Sales Were Up

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Retail Sales Down 1.3% in May but Accessories Sales Were Up

After flattening in April, U.S. retail sales dipped 1.3%, as consumers shifted some of their spending from goods to services as the country slowly reopens in the midst of a successful COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

Americans spent $620.2 billion in May, the Census Bureau reported yesterday, which represents a 28.1% hike over May 2020, a peak-pandemic month. Total sales for the March 2021 through May 2021 period were up 36.2% over the same time last year, which was one of the worst stretches for American retail in a generation.

“While May retail sales were down slightly, largely due to supply chain constraints, the more accurate indicator remains in the year-over-year data,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Foundation, in a statement. “For the first five months of this year, retail sales are already tracking 17.6% above the same five months of 2020.”

Okay, sure. But looking at 2020’s dismal first and second quarters, there was only one way for retail sales to go: up.

And jewelry retailers should feel hopeful. Retail sales at “clothing and clothing accessories stores”—the category jewelry and watches are lumped into—spiked by a full 3% month over month in May.

Concurrently, the shift from buying goods to indulging in services and experiences, which economists have been anticipating as consumers climb out of their pandemic-age home shopping bubbles, is well underway. Sales at restaurants and bars—another of the very few categories that saw growth in May—rose 1.8%.

The census numbers probably don’t tell the whole story, said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz, who added in the same statement, “We are at a highly elevated level of spending, with dollar amounts in recent months some of the highest we’ve ever seen. Long-term trends in the number of dollars spent tell much more about the continuing economic recovery than whether sales were up or down from month to month.… Demand has continued to be strong even as the concentrated impact from government stimulus has faded. There is still pent-up demand for retail goods and consumers are likely to remain on a growth path into the summer.”

(Photo: Howard Lake) 

Follow Emili Vesilind on Instagram: @emilivesilind


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