U.S. retail sales suffered in the spring of 2020 due to safety concerns, government-mandated lockdowns, and economic uncertainty wrought by the coronavirus pandemic. Sales — including purchases at stores, restaurants, and online — plunged from $483.95 billion in March to $412.77 billion in April, a record 16.4% drop.1
Fortunately, retail sales rebounded sharply after the economy began to reopen in May, matched pre-pandemic levels in June ($529.96 billion), and continued to rise steadily from July through September. But sales softened in October, ticking up just 0.3% to $553.33 billion.2
The arrival of an effective vaccine could inspire some holiday cheer, though it probably won’t be widely available until next spring.3 Until then, consumers will likely spend more time at home.
U.S. consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of all economic activity, so it’s good news that many businesses and consumers have adapted quickly to the new normal created by the pandemic.4 Here’s a look at recent changes in consumer behavior, the state of the retail industry, and what these trends could mean for the broader U.S. economy.
1) The Wall Street Journal, May 15, 2020
2) U.S. Census Bureau, 2020
3) The New York Times, November 17, 2020
4) U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2020