Retail sale is a measure of purchases at stores, restaurants, and online. This type of spending is a big deal. Although it makes up a relatively small portion of GDP, it’s an important driver of economic growth because retail sales affect more than just retailers.
They create a ripple effect throughout the economy. That’s why analysts and economists are paying close attention to this monthly indicator as a way to gauge whether the economy at large is recovering. Here’s how the retail spending ripple effect works.
When consumers spend at stores, their stores order more merchandise, which means manufacturers produce more and order more raw materials. So when consumers open their wallets, the economy tends to run smoother. And this type of spending adds up retail sales have been growing for decades except for a short dip around the last recession.
Between 1992 and 2018 retail sales have almost tripled from $1.8 trillion to 5.3 trillion. This includes auto sales, sales at clothing retailers in general merchandisers like department stores, food and beverage sales, and e-commerce. During the pandemic. Some of these categories have struggled more than others.
Auto sales declined sharply as lockdown swept across the country in March and April. – The biggest component of retail sales is spending on new cars and also spending on gasoline. Now those two categories have been really hard hit in the coronavirus pandemic because people are not commuting.
So they’re not spending on gas. And also because there’s been so much fluctuation in the labour market, people that are sort of less inclined to buy a new car because they might not necessarily be sure if they’re going to have a job next month.
Many brick and mortar clothing retailers and department stores saw sales all but disappear during coronavirus lockdowns.
In April spending on clothing was down nearly 90% from the previous year. Neiman Marcus, JC Penny and J crew, which were all under pressure before the pandemic hit, have recently filed for bankruptcy. – Well, the coronavirus pandemic took a huge hit on retail sales purely because people were stuck at home. You know, they had to stay in their houses due to the due to the spread of the virus.
So really the only areas that we saw much spending were on food. Sales for food and beverages haven’t been as deeply impacted. While spending at bars and restaurants has gone down, people have been stocking up at grocery stores. – Spending on bars and restaurants has been hit really hard.
I mean, a lot of places did manage to continue to provide takeout and curbside deliver and so on. But what we did see was a big bump in March when people were stocking up, you know, they really wanted to fill their shelves in preparation for the shutdowns.
Spending online however has accelerated. Consumers increased online purchases in April from the same period last year, boosting online retailers by more than 20%.
– Well every month that this you know, the coronavirus has been one we’ve seen a greater share of retail sales at non-store retailers.
Like for instance, amazon.com for many people, the only option that they have to buy certain products is to go online and spend online.
More recently, there have been signs that retail might be recovering. The retail sector lost almost 2.3 million jobs in April but added nearly 370,000 back in May.
– And the hope is that that will continue as people kind of start to get out and about and to, to recover and to spend more money after the shutdowns or essentially the last phase of the recovery will be people going back into stores, into malls, into enclosed spaces and feeling comfortable.
– How confident consumers feel about going out and spending money safely will help determine how quickly retail sales might improve and ripple around the economy.
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