By 2021, the market had generally recovered from the impact of the pandemic. Now we are being hit by extreme inflation, with rates higher than we have seen in 40 years. Obviously, this can affect retail sales, so we’ll continue to track the retail market with data from two reports provided by the Census Bureau and factor in the CPI from US BLS.
The Census Bureau Reports are the Monthly and the Advance Retail Sales Reports. Both are derived from sales data gathered from retailers across the U.S. and are published monthly at the same time. The Advance Report has a smaller sample size so it can be published quickly – about 2 weeks after month end. The Monthly Final Report includes data from all respondents, so it takes longer to compile the data – about 6 weeks. Although the sample size for the Advance report is smaller, the results over the years have proven it to be statistically accurate with the final monthly reports. The biggest difference is that the full sample in the Final report allows us to “drill” a little deeper into the retail channels.
We begin with the Final Report for April and then move to the Advance Report for May. Our focus is comparing 2022 to 2021 but also YTD 2019. We’ll show both actual and the “real” change in $ as we factor inflation into the data.
Both reports include the following:
- Total Retail, Restaurants, Auto, Gas Stations and Relevant Retail (removing Restaurants, Auto and Gas)
- Individual Channel Data – This will be more detailed in the “Final” reports, and we fill focus on Pet Relevant Channels
The information will be presented in detailed charts to facilitate visual comparison between groups/channels of:
- Current Month change – % & $ vs previous month
- Current Month change – % & $ vs same month in 2021
- Current Month Real change – % vs same month in 2021 factoring in inflation
- Current YTD change – % & $ vs 2021
- Current YTD Real change – % vs 2021 factoring in inflation
- Current YTD change vs 2019 – % & $
- Current Real change YTD vs 2019 – % factoring in inflation
- Monthly & YTD $ & CPIs which are targeted by channel will also be shown. (CPI details are at the end of the report)
First, the April Final. After an uptick in March, sales generally turned down slightly in April. The $ were up for April and YTD vs 2021 for all groups but Auto. However, when you factor in inflation, only Restaurants had increases in these measurements. Here is the April data for the major retail groups. (All $ are Actual, Not Seasonally Adjusted)
The April Final is $2.6B less than the Advance Report. The drop was driven by Relevant Retail: -3.6B; Auto: -$0.1B; Restaurants: +$0.7B; Gas Stations: +$0.4B. Total Sales are down slightly from March, but consumers continue to spend more vs 2021 in all but Auto. However, the “real” numbers give you a different view. All but Restaurants are really down in all measurements. Restaurants are strong due to a late recovery but also note that half of the inflation in this group came before 2022. The inflation impact on Relevant Retail is especially significant as their Real YTD sales vs 2021 are now negative. Relevant Retail does have the best performance since 2019 as 67.9% of their 31.8% growth is “Real”.
Now, let’s see how some Key Pet Relevant channels did in April.
Overall – Only 6 of 11 were up vs March. Vs April 2021, 9 reported more $ but only 2 were really up. In YTD vs 2021, 9 reported increases but only 4 were real. Vs 2019, only the Office/Gift/Souvenir channel was “really” down.
- Building Material Stores – Their Spring lift has started but it is not as strong as last year. Home Ctr/Hdwe is up vs 21 but Farm stores are down for the month & YTD. The Bldg/Matl group has an inflation rate over 11% which produced all negative real numbers. The pandemic caused consumers to focus on their homes which produced sales growth over 30% since 2019 in both channels. Importantly, 67.9% of this lift was real, primarily because the bulk of the lift came from 20>21, prior to the inflation wave. Avg Growth Rate: HomeCtr/Hdwe: 11.3%, Real: 7.5%; Farm: 10.5, Real: 6.6%
- Food & Drug – Both channels are truly essential. Except for the food binge buying in the pandemic, they tend to have smaller fluctuations in $. However, they are radically different in inflation. The rate for Grocery products is 5 times higher than for Drugs/Med products. Sales for Drug Stores are flat vs March 2021 but 90% of their growth since 2019 is real. The Real Sales for Supermarkets are down for the month and YTD. Also, only 28.5% of their growth since 2019 is real. Avg Growth Rate: Supermarkets: +6.3%, Real: +1.9%; Drug Stores: +4.1%, Real: +3.7%.
- Sporting Goods Stores – They also benefited from the pandemic in that consumers turned to self-entertainment, especially sports & outdoor activities. Their normal Spring lift started in March then stabilized in April at a level considerably below 2021. Their current inflation rate is 7.5% but it was also high in 20>21, +4.8%. However, 73% of their 48.8% lift since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth Rate was: +14.2%; Real: +10.7%.
- Gen Mdse Stores – Sales in SupCtr/Clubs fell vs March and all channels are up only slightly for the month and YTD vs 2021. All real measurements vs 2021 are negative for all channels. Disc. Dept Stores were struggling before COVID and only 17% of their 8% growth since 2019 is real. For the other channels, it averages 45%. Avg Growth Rate: SupCtr/Club: 5.6%, Real: 2.5%; $/Value Strs: +6.6%, Real: +3.5%; Disc. Dept.: +2.9%, Real: +0.5%
- Office, Gift & Souvenir Stores – Their recovery didn’t start until the spring of 2021. Sales are down vs March but up vs 2021. The growth vs 2021 has been strong enough that it turned real YTD sales positive vs 2021. However, their real sales vs 2019 are still down -4.3%. Their true recovery is still a long way off. Avg Growth Rate: +1.0%, Real: -1.5%
- Internet/Mail Order – The growth of the “hero” of the Pandemic is slowing. April sales are up in all measurements, but the YTD growth rate is less than half of the average since 2019. However, 91% of their 81.8% growth since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth Rates is: +22.1%, Real: +20.4%. As expected, they are by far the growth leaders since 2019.
- A/O Miscellaneous – This is a group of specialty retailers. Pet Stores are 22>24% of total $. In May 2020 they began their recovery which reached a record level by December 2021 as annual sales reached $100B for the first time. In 2022, they are the Sales increase leaders over 2021. As expected, their sales dipped in January from December but all measurements have been positive every month since then. Plus, 88% of their 62.9% growth since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth Rate is: +17.7%, Real: +15.8%. They are 2nd in growth since 2019 to the internet, which is somewhat surprising.
There is no doubt that high inflation is an important factor in Retail. In actual $, 9 channels reported increases in YTD sales over 2021 and 9 are up for the month. When you factor in inflation, the number with any “real” growth falls to 4 YTD & 2 monthly. This is a very clear indication of the growing impact of inflation at the retail channel level. Recent data showed that Inflation continues to grow. Let’s look at the impact on the Advance Retail Sales numbers for May.
We have had memorable times since 2019. Some big negatives, including the 2 biggest monthly drops in history but a lot of positives in the Pandemic recovery. Total Retail reached $600B in a month for the first time and broke the $7 Trillion barrier in 2021. Relevant Retail was also strong as annual sales reached $4T and all big groups set annual $ales records in 2021. Now radical inflation has entered the game with the largest increase in 40 years. At first this reduces the amount of product sold but not $ spent. In May there was a small overall increase from April, but the amount sold again fell in all but Restaurants. If it continues, it can reduce consumer spending. This has happened in Auto in April & May.
Overall – Inflation Reality is setting in. The monthly increase vs the previous year continues to be smaller than it has been. The still recovering Restaurants and Gas Stations are up double digits vs 2021 but Auto $ are down again. May set a new $ record for the month, but the real monthly and YTD sales vs 2021 for all but restaurants are down.
Total Retail – Every month in 2022 has set a monthly sales record. May $ are $698B, second only in $ to December 2021. In a normal year, sales should stay at or near this level until dipping slightly in September. However, 2022 is not normal. Sales are +2.4% vs April but are still up 8.2% vs May 2021 and 10.6% vs YTD 2021. However, when you factor in 13+% inflation, both measurements are down for the 3rd consecutive month and only 43.6% of the 31.2% growth since 2019 is real. The Avg Growth Rate is: +9.5%, Real: +4.3%. The impact of Inflation is growing.
Restaurants – They were hit hard by the pandemic and didn’t truly start to recover until March 2021. Sales in the last 9 months of 2021 exceeded $70B and 2021 was the biggest year in history, $876B. January sales fell from December but have turned up since then setting new all-time monthly records in March, April and now May ($90.2B). They are the only big group that is positive in all measurements. Their inflation is high at 7.3% for May and 6.8% YTD but it is the lowest of any big group. 61.6% of their 30.2% growth since 2019 is real. This is up from 51% in April which shows the appeal of “eating out” after months of cooking at home. Their Avg Growth Rate: +9.2%, Real: +5.8%. Although they only account for 12.9% of Total Retail sales, their positive performance significantly helps to improve the overall retail numbers.
Auto (Motor Vehicle & Parts Dealers) – This group actively worked to overcome the stay-at-home attitude with great deals and a lot of advertising. They finished 2020 up 1% vs 2019 and hit a record $1.48T in 2021. In 2022 sales fell in January, turned up in Feb/Mar then fell again in April/May. They are unique in that their March, April and May sales are below 2021. These are the only reported sales negatives by any group vs 2021. This is bad but their real sales numbers are much worse. Extraordinarily high inflation has pushed their real sales down -16+% in all measurements vs 2021, the worst performance of any group. Plus, their 26.7% growth since 2019 is really down -1.4%. Their Avg Growth Rate: +8.2%, Real: -0.5%. It is very likely that the drops in the reported $ales in March>May are tied to extreme inflation.
Gas Stations – Gas Stations were also hit hard. If you stay home, you drive less and obviously need less gas. This group started recovery in March 2021 and reached a record $584B for the year. Sales fell in January and February then turned up in March>May. They have the biggest increases vs 2021 and 2019 but it is not reality. Gasoline inflation is in all of the headlines and is by far the highest of any expenditure category. It is over 44% for 2022 vs 2021 and has even caused consumers to buy 6% less than they did in 2019. Avg Growth Rate: +13.2%, Real: -2.0%. It’s a textbook example of the initial impact of inflation. Consumers are spending more but buying less, even less than they bought 3 years ago.
Relevant Retail – Less Auto, Gas and Restaurants – This the “core” of U.S. retail and accounts for 60+% of Total Retail Spending. There are a variety of channels in this group, so they took a number of different paths through the pandemic. However, their only down month was April 2020. They finished 2020, up +7.1% and 2021 got even better as they reached a record $4.50T. They have led the way in Total Retail’s recovery which became widespread across the channels. Sales fell in January and February, turned up in March, flattened in April, then grew in May. All months in 2022 set new records but their YTD increase is now 23.4% below their 9.4% avg growth since 2019. Now, we’ll look at the impact of inflation. 65.8% of their 31% growth since 2019 is real. However real sales vs 2021 are down -1.8% for the month and -0.4% YTD. This shows that inflation is only a 2022 problem. Their Avg Growth Rate: +9.4%, Real: +6.4%. The performance of this huge group is critically important. This is where America shops. Real YTD sales are down 0.4% so the amount of products that consumers bought in 2022 is actually less than in 2021. They just paid more. That’s not good.
The impact of inflation is truly beginning to Hit home. All groups but Restaurants now have no monthly or YTD real growth vs 2021. Both Auto & Gas Stations are even “really down” vs YTD 2019. Added together, this has produced 3 straight months of real monthly and YTD drops for Total Retail. We are now in Phase II of inflation. Consumer spending increases but the amount bought declines. With 3 straight down months, the Auto Group is likely in Phase III, when consumers actually cut back on spending. If inflation continues, this worsening situation will become more widespread.
Here’s a more detailed look at May by Key Channels
- Relevant Retail: Avg Growth Rate: +9.4%, Real: +6.4%. 9 channels were up vs April and vs May 2021. This was enough to set a May $ales record. 10 were up YTD vs 2021 but you will see the negative impact of inflation in the real numbers.
- All Dept Stores – This group was struggling before COVID, and the pandemic hit them hard. They began to recover in March 2020 and have continued to grow in 2022. Their YTD numbers turned positive vs 2019 in April but in May they are still down in real terms in all measurements vs both 2019 & 2021. Avg Growth: +0.04%, Real: -2.6%.
- Club/SuprCtr/$ – They fueled a big part of the overall recovery because they focus on value which has broad consumer appeal. Inflation is a big factor in their current numbers. While May sales are up from April and vs May 2021 and YTD, their real numbers are down and only 41.2% of their 17.7% lift from 2019 is real. Avg Growth: +5.6%, Real: +2.4%.
- Grocery – These essential stores depend on frequent purchases, so except for the binge buying in 2020, their changes are generally less radical. Inflation has hit Groceries hard. Monthly and YTD increases vs 2021 are strong but inflation is stronger. Real sales are down and only 24.5% of the growth since 2019 is real. Avg Growth: +6.3%, Real: +1.6%.
- Health/Drug Stores – At least the drug stores in this group are essential, but consumers visit far less frequently than Grocery stores. Most of their COVID ride has been rather calm. Their inflation rate is low and sales are positive in all measurements. Plus, 90% of their 13.3% growth from 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth is: +4.2%, Real: +3.8%.
- Clothing and Accessories – They were nonessential, and clothes mattered less when you stayed home. That changed in March 2021 and resulted in explosive growth which has continued through 2022. $ are up 5.9% from April and they’re positive in all measurements. Also, 89% of their growth from 2019 is real. Avg Growth: 5.1%, Real: 4.6%.
- Home Furnishings – They were also less impacted by COVID. Sales dipped Mar>May in 2020. Then as consumers’ focus turned to their homes, furniture became a priority. Inflation on Furniture is very high, so growth is slowing and their real numbers vs 2021 are negative. Only 32.4% of their growth since 2019 is real. Avg Growth: +6.9%, Real: +2.4%.
- Electronic & Appliances – Look at the graph. This channel has problems beyond the pandemic. Sales fell in Apr>May of 2020 and didn’t reach 2019 levels until March 2021. Sales are up from April but are down across the board vs 2021. The increase from April and deflation has turned sales positive vs 2019 but only +0.9%. Avg Growth: +0.30%, Real: +0.26%.
- Building Material, Farm & Garden & Hardware –They truly benefited from the consumers’ focus on home. After slowing in April, this year’s spring lift is restarting but at a lower level than 2021. When you factor in strong, double-digit inflation, the amount sold vs 2021 is significantly lower for both May and YTD. 61.5% of their strong 36.6% sales growth since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth is: +11.0%, Real: +7.0%.
- Sporting Goods, Hobby and Book Stores – Consumers turned their attention to recreation and Sporting Goods stores sales took off. Book & Hobby Stores recovered more slowly. Sales were up in May which made the month and YTD $ up vs 2021. However, all “real” measurements are down vs 2021. Inflation in this group is lower than most groups and most comes from Sporting Goods. 79% of their 36.8% growth since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth is: +11.0%, Real: +8.8%.
- All Miscellaneous Stores – Pet Stores have been a key part of the strong and growing recovery of this group. They finished 2020 +0.9% but sales took off in March 21. They set a new monthly $ales record in December. In April & now May, they moved to the top spot in both monthly & YTD lifts vs 2021. Their YTD growth since 2019 is 2nd only to NonStore. Plus, 83% of the 44.8% growth since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth is: +13.1%, Real: +11.1%.
- NonStore Retailers – 90% of their volume comes from Internet/Mail Order/TV. The pandemic accelerated online spending. They ended 2020 +21.4%. The growth continued in 2021. In December monthly sales exceeded $100B for the 1st time and they broke the $1 Trillion barrier for the year. Their Growth has slowed significantly in 2022 but all measurements are positive. 89% of their 71.6% increase since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth is: +19.7%, Real: +17.8%.
Note: Almost without exception, online sales by brick ‘n mortar retailers are recorded with their regular store sales.
Recap – The Retail recovery from the pandemic was largely driven by Relevant Retail. While the timing varied between channels, by the end of 2021 it had become very widespread. In late 2021 and now in 2022, a new challenge came to the forefront – extreme inflation. It isn’t the worst in history, but it is the biggest increase in prices in 40 years. Moreover, each month it is getting worse. On the surface, the impact is almost invisible. Sales in the total market and in the Relevant Retail group continue to grow but the growth has slowed markedly. Overall, the market is generally in phase II of strong inflation – spending grows but the amount purchased falls. The channels in the graph above illustrate this perfectly and show how widespread that it has become. 8 of 11 channels are up vs May 2021 and 9 are up YTD. However, when you factor in inflation, only 4 are up for May and 4 for YTD. Inflation is real and there are real and even worse consequences if it continues. To see an example of this, take a look at what is happening in the Auto Group.
Finally, here are the details and updated inflation rates for the CPIs used to calculate the impact of inflation on retail groups and channels. This includes special aggregate CPIs created with the instruction and guidance of personnel from the US BLS. I also researched data from the last Economic Census to review the share of sales by product category for the various channels to help in selecting what expenditures to include in specific aggregates. Of course, none these specially created aggregates are 100% accurate but they are much closer than the overall CPI or available aggregates.
This list raises some questions. Here are some answers to some of the more obvious ones.
- Why is the group for Non-store different from the Internet?
- Non-store is not all internet. It also includes Fuel Oil Dealers, the non-motor fuel Energy Commodity.
- Why is there no Food at home included in Non-store or Internet?
- Online Grocery purchasing is becoming popular but almost all is from companies whose major business is brick ‘n mortar. These online sales are recorded under their primary channel.
- 6 Channels have the same CPI aggregate but represent a variety of business types.
- They also have a wide range of product types. Rather than try to build aggregates of a multitude of small expenditure categories, it seemed better to eliminate the biggest, influential groups that they don’t sell. This method is not perfect, but it is certainly closer than any existing aggregate.
- Why are Grocery and Supermarkets only tied to the Grocery CPI?
- According to the Economic Census, 76% of their sales comes from Grocery products. Grocery Products are the driver. The balance of their sales comes from a collection of a multitude of categories.
- What about Drug/Health Stores only being tied to Medical Commodities.
- An answer similar to the one for Grocery/Supermarkets. However, in this case Medical Commodities account for over 80% of these stores’ total sales.
- Why do SuperCtrs/Clubs and $ Stores have the same CPI?
- While the Big Stores sell much more fresh groceries, Groceries account for ¼ of $ Store sales. Both Channels generally offer most of the same product categories, but the mix of actual products is substantially different.