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Retail sales in a pandemic recession : Diverse tales by sectors

Summary:
[embedded content] The FRED graph above shows retail sales for the last year and a half. Of course, the pandemic has had a huge impact, with a severe drop and a quick recovery. But the retail sector is large and diverse. So let’s look at various layers of it. [embedded content] This graph is one of the strangest looking ones we’ve ever shown on this blog. And it tells very different stories. Let’s go through them one by one. (Hover over the legend in the graph to better see the respective lines.) Grocery store sales actually surged with the pandemic. This is likely linked to the substitution from eating out to eating at home, which we discussed earlier on this blog.Alcohol sales increased as well, as discussed in another post.Pharmacies and drug stores are also doing well, likely due

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The FRED graph above shows retail sales for the last year and a half. Of course, the pandemic has had a huge impact, with a severe drop and a quick recovery. But the retail sector is large and diverse. So let’s look at various layers of it.

This graph is one of the strangest looking ones we’ve ever shown on this blog. And it tells very different stories. Let’s go through them one by one. (Hover over the legend in the graph to better see the respective lines.)

Grocery store sales actually surged with the pandemic. This is likely linked to the substitution from eating out to eating at home, which we discussed earlier on this blog.
Alcohol sales increased as well, as discussed in another post.
Pharmacies and drug stores are also doing well, likely due to a higher demand for prevention goods.
Men’s clothing has been a disaster, bottoming out in April 2020 at 12% of its January 2020 sales (after adjusting for seasonal variations).
Sporting goods sales fell by half but are now higher than before. Whether this rise was caused by simply catching up on postponed sales remains to be seen.
Warehouse clubs and superstores did well initially and are now back to normal.
Online and mail-order shopping… It’s no surprise this area is doing well, but it hasn’t been exploding as much as some may think.

The sectors we highlighted here are special in some ways, but there’s much more to explore from the Monthly Retail Sales release table.

How these graphs were created: For both graphs, start from the release table. For the first graph, simply click on the retail sales excluding food services and restrict the sample to 2019-01-01 to 2020-06-01. For the second graph, check the relevant series, click on “Add to Graph”; from the “Edit Graph” panel, change units to 100 for 2020-01-01, click “Apply to all,” and restrict the sample period to 2019-01-01 to 2020-06-01.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

About FRED Blog
FRED Blog
The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is the center of the Eighth District of the Federal Reserve System. This District includes Arkansas, eastern Missouri, southern Illinois and Indiana, western Kentucky and Tennessee, and northern Mississippi.

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