May 14, 2021 - Economy & Business

Retail sales flat in April after huge surge in March

Animated Axios giphy with shopping cart and dollar signs above it flashing pink and blue
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

April retail sales in the U.S. were unchanged from March, which saw a surge revised up to 10.7%, according to the latest Commerce Department report published Friday.

Why it matters: The U.S. has been entering a period of growing optimism in the wake of the vaccine rollout, falling new COVID-19 cases and deaths, and a slowly recovering labor market. Retail sales were up 51% year-over-year compared to April 2020.

By the numbers: Demand for goods fell as pent-up demand for services propelled spending for dining and drinking.

  • Growth was flat following March's revised 10.7% monthly gain — the biggest uptick in 10 months, driven in part by government stimulus.
  • Auto and restaurant sales were strong in April, both growing around 3%. Without auto growth, overall retail sales were down almost 1%.
  • Physical store sales and clothing store sales dropped 5%.
Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

What to watch: The combination of stimulus checks, extended unemployment benefits, upcoming tax refunds and stockpiled savings looks to be a powerful accelerant for retail sales in the coming summer, back-to-work and back-to-school months.

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