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'Exhausted' Retailers See Some Record-Setting Good News

US retail sales jumped 17.7% from April to May, but retailers aren't out of the woods yet
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 16, 2020 8:37 AM CDT

(Newser) – US retail sales jumped by a record 17.7% from April to May, with spending partially rebounding after the coronavirus had shut down businesses, flattened the economy, and paralyzed consumers during the previous two months. The Commerce Department's report Tuesday showed retail sales have retraced some of the record-setting month-to-month plunges of March (8.3%) and April (14.7%) as businesses have increasingly reopened, per the AP. Still, the pandemic's damage to retail sales remains severe, with purchases still down 6.1% from a year ago. Nearly 80% of small retailers and restaurants tracked by the scheduling tool Homebase that were closed in mid-April have since reopened, yet these smaller businesses remain under pressure. "This is my heart and soul," the owner of a women's clothing store in New York City says. "I am exhausted from all the worrying."

Some national chains, by contrast, say they've so far avoided their worst fears. For example, Macy's CEO Jeff Gennette has said his company's reopened stores are regaining 50% of typical business. Analysts caution that some of the gains thus far probably reflect the impact of temporary government aid and expanded unemployment benefits in the face of a deep recession. That recession has not only diminished spending in most sectors of the economy: It has also accelerated shifts in where people shop and what they buy. The changes have in many cases intensified the financial strain on traditional physical stores and boosted online purchases. Sales at non-store retailers, which include internet companies like Amazon and eBay, rose 9% in May after posting growth of 9.5% in April. Retail sales account for roughly half of all consumer spending, which fuels about 70% of total economic activity.

(Read more retail sales stories.)

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