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Commerce Department Report: Retail Sales Decline 1.1% in November

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U.S. retail sales fell 1.1% month-over-month to $546.5 billion in November 2020, according to data from the Commerce Department. The decline marks the first monthly drop in spending at stores, car dealerships, restaurants and ecommerce since April. However, the National Retail Federation (NRF) calculations were more positive: the organization saw November sales decline 0.3%, seasonally adjusted from October, but up 8.8% unadjusted year-over-year.

Despite the monthly decline, the Commerce Department still noted that November retail sales were up 4.1% year-over-year, and the overall September 2020 through November 2020 period was up 5.2%. Additionally, some retail segments saw growth despite the negative trend:

  • Grocery: Up 1.9%;
  • Home improvement and gardening: Up 1.1%; and
  • Ecommerce: Up 0.2%.

Sports, music and other hobby stores beat the average, with sales down just 0.6%, while big box retailers declined 1% and sales at furniture stores fell 1.1%. A few other retail segments saw more significant losses:

  • Electronics: Down 3.5%;
  • Clothing and accessories: Down 6.8%; and
  • Department stores: Down 7.7%.

The NRF’s calculations, which exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail, painted a more positive picture. The organization remains optimistic that the holiday season will close out strong, but noted that spending could “shift into a lower gear” if the coronavirus continues to spread.

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“Consumers held back on spending in November as virus rates spiked, states imposed retail restrictions and congressional stimulus discussions were gridlocked,” said Matthew Shay, President and CEO of NRF in a statement. “While consumers have been bolstered by increases in disposable income and savings, it’s clear that additional fiscal stimulus from Congress is needed and we are hopeful it will be passed soon as we enter the final stretch of the holiday season. With retail sales up 8.8% versus November 2019, we still expect a strong holiday season compared with last year.”

NRF has forecast that holiday sales will increase between 3.6% and 5.2% year-over-year to between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion. NRF research found that 42% of consumers started holiday shopping sooner than usual this year, which could impact sales totals for the later parts of the season.

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