Washington (AFP) – US retail sales plunged by 16.4 percent in April as the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses shut across the world’s largest economy, the Commerce Department said on Friday.
The drop was the largest recorded in the history of the survey and much worse than expected, with massive contractions reported in an array of retailers, including clothing, furniture, electronics and appliances and food and drinking places, all of which declined by double-digits.
The index had sunk by 8.3 percent in March, but April’s survey was the first to reflect a full month of lockdowns imposed to stem the spread of the virus.
The $403.9 billion in sales last month, seasonally adjusted, reversed years of growth and brought the index back to the level reached in August 2012.
National Retail Federation CEO Matthew Shay said the report was “not a surprise given the current state of affairs” but predicted a rebound.
“Prior to this pandemic, retail was setting records in year-over-year growth, employment and investment. It is a resilient industry serving a smart consumer, and despite today’s report, we know it will be leading our nation’s economic recovery as this crisis recedes,” he said in a statement.
Yet the damage was deep and the worst performers were businesses centered on getting people to visit stores and shopping malls, while e-commerce and grocery businesses showed signs of growth.
Sales as clothing stores dropped 78.8 percent compared to March, electronics and appliances stores by 60.6 percent and furniture stores by 58.7 percent.
Gas station sales dropped 28.8 percent as oil prices remained low.
However, non-store retailers, such as those doing business online, saw sales growth of 8.4 percent, while food and beverage stores declined compared to March but rose12 percent compared to April of last year, aided by the closure of restaurants.