Americans continued to shop against amid renewed lockdowns and historically high unemployment.
According to the Commerce Department, retail sales improved 1.2% to $536 billion last month — a sign of consumerism’s resiliency as the COVID-19 outbreak persisted in the United States.
That figure was above pre-pandemic levels and followed unexpectedly-blockbuster retail sales months of June and May, when shoppers returned to stores, restaurants and other establishments as state and local governments loosened stay-at-home orders and restrictions on nonessential businesses.
In July, electronics and appliance stores recorded a 22.9% uptick from the prior month, likely as consumers sought entertainment or to remodel their homes as they remained indoors. People also fueled up their vehicles, with gasoline stations growing 6.2%, and patronized restaurants and bars, which saw a 5% jump from June.
American consumers also shopped for fashion items: Data from the Census Bureau showed a 5.7% climb in sales at clothing and accessories stores, 6.2% increase for miscellaneous retailers and a 0.7% advancement in non-store or online businesses. However, sporting goods and hobby stores logged a 5% decline, while general merchandise stores, which include department stores, dropped 0.2%.
Overall, however, July’s numbers were smaller than the retail sales gains in the previous two months: In June, sales were up 7.5% to $524.3 billion, with clothing and accessories stores surging 105.1%, sporting goods and hobby stores rising 26.5% and department stores swelling 19.8%. Retailers saw an even bigger boost in May, when sales bounced back 17.7% following record collapses in March and April, when the pandemic took hold in the country.
What’s more, the past few months had seen the federal government deliver $1,200 in direct payments to eligible individuals, which could have elevated spending, and the crucial $600 in enhanced weekly jobless benefits had expired at the end of July. If financial assistance from the government isn’t extended soon, millions of Americans could slash their shopping budgets, even for essential goods, which could have serious consequences for retail and more sectors — not to mention a rippling effect on jobs and wages for those who are employed in those highly affected industries.