June’s Retail and Food Service Sales Indicate Complex and Uncertain Recovery

Census Bureau reports 1.1% rise in sales last month compared to June 2019

Sources: Getty Images, US Census

There was a moment toward the end of May when it seemed as if post-pandemic normalcy was just around the corner—or at least, the attitude of some state governors, which began to speed up their reopening phases and loosen mandates on mask-wearing, made it seem that Covid-19 was about to become a footnote in history.

But cases have continued to surge, especially across the Sun Belt, leading to states like California, Florida and Texas to roll back their reopenings, and many others to issue mask mandates.

In turn, fears of an unflattened contagion curve led consumers to stall their credit card spending at the end of last month, analysts at JPMorgan Chase told the Associated Press. While the U.S. Census Bureau’s advance estimates of retail and food service sales for June 2020 show an increase of 7.5% from May 2020—and a 1.1% year-over-year increase from June 2019—recent Covid-19 developments may stagnate gains as major economic fallout looms and recovery remains up in the air.

census bureau economic chart
U.S. Census Bureau

June continued the trend toward fiscal healing from May 2020, after the economy suffered brutally in March and April as the outbreak began to spread all over the country and shutdowns closed stores and restaurants. Between April and May, retail sales surged by 18.2%—revised from the previously reported 17.7%, which was already the highest spike in shopping activity on record.

Industries that recovered from May to June include:

  • Food services and drinking places (20%)
  • Sporting goods, hobby, musical, instrument and bookstores (26.5%)
  • Furniture and home furnishing retailers (32.5%), electronics and appliances (37.4%)
  • Clothing and accessories (up a whopping 105.1%).
  • General merchandise (2.7%)
  • Health and personal care (3.5%)
  • Motor vehicle and parts dealers (8.2%)
  • Gas stations (15.3%)

Industries that were hit hardest, though did not suffer drastic sale plunges, include: building material and garden supply dealers (-0.3%), food and beverage (-1.2%) and non-store retailers (-2.4%).

It should be noted, however, that non-store retail sales—which include online shopping—have shot up 23.5% in June 2020 compared to June 2019, as consumers find convenience and safety in ecommerce. Similarly, purchases at food and beverage stores have increased 12.4% over the past year, while spending at restaurants and bars is down 26.3% compared to June 2019, indicating how the closure of dining rooms has affected consumer cooking habits.

And while clothiers seemed to have raked in the dough in June, sales are still down by 23.2% compared to June 2019. Covid-19’s effect on fashion retail has been observable in the number of bankruptcies filed and store locations permanently shuttered in the past six weeks. Clothing brands facing public difficulties include JCPenney, Neiman Marcus, PVH, New York & Co., Brooks Brothers, Ascena, Lucky Brand, G-Star Raw, J. Jill, The Children’s Place, Tailored Brands, Macy’s and G-III Apparel Group.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s July 2020 Advance Monthly Retail Report is scheduled for release on Aug. 14. Monthly estimates are adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading day differences.

@monicroqueta monica.zorrilla@adweek.com Mónica is a breaking news reporter at Adweek.