Grocery sales the star of March amid record retail slump

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Grocery sales the star of March amid record retail slump

U.S. retail sales recorded their worst monthly decline on record in March, slumping 8.7% year-on-year, according to  Census Bureau data which dates back to 1992.

However, grocery sales experienced a surge, rising by 25.6%. And sales at non-store retailers - a category that would include e-commerce sites like Amazon - increased 3.1%.

Sales at clothing and accessories stores plunged 50.5% in March. Sales at furniture and home furnishing stores declined 26.8%, sales at sporting goods stores fell 23.3% and electronics and appliance sales declined 15.1%.

General merchandise stores – which include warehouse clubs that sell both food and essential household products – were up 6.4%, and health and personal care stores, which include pharmacies, were up 4.3 percent. 

Except for grocery stores and other "essential" retailers, companies have shuttered stores and furloughed or laid-off workers. Consumers have also pulled back their spending on discretionary items. 

“COVID-19 has hit the retail industry unevenly,” National Retail Federation (NRF) chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said.

“This is a market of haves and have-nots. The haves are the stores that remain open with lines out the doors to buy daily necessities while the have-nots are the stores that have closed and are taking the brunt of the impact of the pandemic. These numbers should come as no surprise given the mandated shutdown of our economy to slow the spread of the virus.”

“March was a month that started out with many stores still open, but far more are closed now,” Kleinhenz said. “Don’t be surprised if the data going forward shows a worsening situation. Even if the economy begins to reopen in May, consumer behavior may take a long time to adjust. The road to recovery could be long and slow.”

Produce sales growth

IRI data shows that produce department sales in the week ending March 8 were up 3.8% year-on-year. This soared to 34.5% the following week, then falling to 29.7% and 8.1%. In the week ending April 5, however, they had rebounded to 14.2%.

More information on produce sales here: U.S.: Fresh produce sales bounce back at beginning of April

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