Retail Channel Monthly $ Update – December Final & January Advance

By 2021, the market had generally recovered from the impact of the pandemic. In 2022, we were 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 December and then go to the Advance Report for January. Our focus is comparing to last year but also 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 a year ago
    • Current Month Real change – % vs same month in a year ago factoring in inflation
  • Current Annual change – % & $ for 2022 vs 2021. January 2023 will be compared to 2022 & 2021
    • Current Annual Real change % for 2022 vs 2021. January 2023 will show real change vs 2022 & 2021
  • Current Annual change 2022 vs 2019 – % & $. January 2023 will also be compared to January 2019.
    • Current Annual Real change 2022 vs 2019 – % factoring in inflation. Real Change also for January 2023 vs 2019.
  • Monthly & Annual $ & CPIs which are targeted by channel will also be shown. (Details are at the end of the report)

First, the December Final. All but Gas Stations were up from last month and all were up for December & Y/E vs 2021. Considering inflation, only Relevant Retail was down for the month but for year-end numbers, only Restaurants were up. Here is the December data for the major retail groups. (All $ are Actual, Not Seasonally Adjusted)

The December Final is $1.2B less than the Advance. Restaurants had the only positive: +$1.2B; : Auto: -1.2B; Gas Stations: -$0.3B; Relevant Retail: -$0.8B. Sales are up from last month and consumers continue to spend more vs 2021. However, the “real” numbers vs 2021 tell a slightly different story. All but Relevant Retail are really up for the month but only Restaurants are really up year-end vs 2021. Auto & Gas Stations also finished 2022 really down vs 2019. The inflation impact on Relevant Retail is concerning. Their Real YTD $ales vs 2021 were negative for 9 straight months and they finished -$1.2%. They do have the best performance since 2019 as 59.7% of their 31.8% growth is “Real”.

Now, let’s see how some Key Pet Relevant channels did in December

Overall– 10 of 11 were up from November. Vs Dec 2021, 9 reported more $ but only 2 were really up. In Y/E vs 2021, 10 had increases but only 3 were real. Vs 2019, Disc Dept Stores are again the only real negative. In Sep/Oct all were up.

  • Building Material Stores – Sales are down vs Nov for Home Ctr/Hdwe, but up 6.6% Y/E vs 21. Farm stores are +5.4% vs Nov but +7.5% vs Dec 2021. Y/E sales are +6.1%. The Bldg/Matl group had a Y/E (annual) inflation rate of 10.9% which has produced negative real numbers. The pandemic caused consumers to focus on their homes which has produced sales growth of 36.5% since 2019. Importantly, 54% 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: 10.8%, Real: 6.0%; Farm: 12.3%, Real: 7.7%
  • Food & Drug – Both channels are truly essential. Except for the pandemic food binge buying, they tend to have smaller fluctuations in $. However, they are radically different in inflation. The Y/E rate for Grocery products is 4 times higher than for Drugs/Med products. Drug Store $ are up from November but really negative vs 2021. However, 88% of their growth since 2019 is real. The Real Sales for Supermarkets are down for the month & Y/E. Also, only 14% of their growth since 2019 is real. Avg Growth Rate: Supermarkets: +7.0%, Real: +1.0%; Drug Stores: +4.9%, Real: +4.4%.
  • Sporting Goods Stores – They also benefited from the pandemic in that consumers turned to self-entertainment, especially sports & outdoor activities. Sales are up 39.8% from November and up vs 2021. Y/E sales are 1.7% above 2021. Their current inflation rate is 3.5% which is down from 7.5% in April but Y/E it is 5.4%. It was even higher in 20>21, +6.5%. However, 72% of their 48% lift since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth Rate was: +14.0%; Real: +10.4%.
  • Gen Mdse Stores – All channels were up from November and only Discount Dept Stores were down for the month and Y/E vs 2021. All real numbers for all channels monthly and Y/E vs 2021 are negative. Disc. Dept Stores were hurting before COVID and their Y/E sales are “really” down vs 2019. The other channels have 36% real growth. Avg Growth Rate: SupCtr/Club: 5.9%, Real: 2.0%; $/Value Strs: +7.9%, Real: +4.2%; Disc. Dept.: +2.3%, Real: -0.5%
  • Office, Gift & Souvenir Stores – Their recovery didn’t start until the spring of 2021. Sales are up 41% from November and their 2022 sales growth has been strong enough to make them positive in all measurements vs 2021 & 2019. They have made remarkable progress. Avg Growth Rate: +3.5%, Real: +0.8%
  • Internet/Mail Order – Sales are up 7.2% from November and set a new all-time record. They are positive for all other measurements, but their Y/E growth rate is only 55% of their average since 2019. However, 89% of their 75.8% growth since 2019 is real. Avg Growth Rates: +20.7%, Real: +18.7%. 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 in 2021 as annual sales reached $100B for the first time. Their sales dipped in January, July, Sept>Nov, then rose in December but were really down vs Dec 21. 2022. Y/E measurements are very positive and they are by far the $ increase leaders over 2021. Plus, 85% of their 55.5% growth since 2019 is real. Average Growth Rate is: +15.8%, Real: +13.7%. They are 2nd in growth since 2019 to the internet. I’m sure Pet Stores are helping.

There is no doubt that high inflation is an important factor in Retail. In actual $, 9 channels reported increases in monthly $ and 10 in Y/E $ over 2021. When you factor in inflation, the number with any “real” growth falls to 2 for monthly & 3 for Y/E. This is a clear indication of the ongoing strong impact of inflation at the retail channel level. Recent data indicates that Inflation again slowed a little. Let’s look at the impact on the Advance Retail $ales for January.

We have had memorable times since 2019, including the 2 biggest monthly drops in history but a lot of positives in the Pandemic recovery. Total Retail reached $700B in a month for the first time and broke the $7T barrier in 2021. Relevant Retail was also strong as annual sales reached $4T in 2021 and all big groups set annual $ales records. In 2022 radical inflation was a big factor with the largest increase in 40 years. At first this reduces the amount of product sold but not $ spent. Total Retail hit $8T and all groups again set new annual records in 2022. As expected, all groups were down from December, but all were up vs January 2022. Plus, in the amount of product sold, only Relevant Retail was down vs 2022 but Auto & Gas Stations were down vs 2021. Gas Stations are also still really down vs 2019.

Overall – Inflation Reality January inflation vs 2022 fell below the $ increase rate for all but Relevant Retail. However, you see the impact of 2022 inflation as real sales are down for Gas Stations and Auto vs 2021 and only minimally up for Relevant & Total Retail. Restaurants were down vs Dec, but up strongly in all measurements vs 2022, 2021 & 2019. There is a slight positive. For the 1st time in 9 months real sales vs 2021 are up vs 2021 for Total & Relevant Retail.

Total Retail – Every month since June 2020 has set a monthly sales record. December 2022 $ were $748.2B, a new all-time record. 2022 was somewhat normal as sales dipped in September then grew in Oct>Dec before falling in January. January $ are -16.2% vs December, +6.2%% vs Jan 2022, +21.0% vs 2021 & +37.6% vs 2019. However, when you factor in inflation, only 43% of 19>23 sales growth is real but that’s better than 22>23: 33% and 21>23: 17%. Avg 2019>23 Growth: +8.3%, Real: +3.8%. Even as inflation slows, it continues to have a cumulative impact.

Restaurants – They were hit hard by the pandemic and didn’t truly start to recover until March 2021. However, they reached a record $876B in 2021. Sales continued to grow in 2022, setting an all-time monthly record of $90.8B in October and exceeding $1T in 2022 for the 1st time. They are the only big group that is positive in all measurements vs 2022, 2021 & 2019. Inflation slowed to 8.1% for January from 8.2% last month. However, it is still 14.9% vs 2021 and 19.6% vs 2019. 62.8% of their 52.8% growth since 2019 is real. Avg 2019>23 Growth: +11.2%, Real: +7.4%. They only account for 13.8% of Total Retail $ales, but their performance 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 got on a rollercoaster – Jan down, Feb/Mar up, Apr>May down, then flipping monthly with January being down. They had 4 down months in actual sales which are the only reported sales negatives by any big group in 2021>2022. This is bad but their real Y/E sales numbers were much worse, down -8.2% vs 2021, the worst of any group. 2023 has started off a little better. Sales are up vs 2022, 2021 & 2019. Plus, real sales are only down vs 2021. Avg 2019>23 Growth: +7.3%, Real: +1.7%. Prices have deflated for 2 straight months. Real Sales vs 2019 are positive for the 1st time since April 2022.

Gas Stations – Gas Stations were also hit hard. If you stay home, you drive less and need less gas. This group started recovery in March 2021 and reached a record $584B in 2022. Sales got on a rollercoaster in 2022 but have trended down Nov>Jan. They have fallen to 2nd place behind restaurants with the biggest increases vs 2022, 2021 and 2019 but it is still not reality. Gasoline inflation has slowed. However, it is still 42.7% vs 2021. Monthly real sales are again positive, but sales are still really down -3.2% vs 2021 and -5.4% vs 2019. Avg 2019>23 Growth: +9.0%, Real: -1.4%. The numbers show the cumulative impact of inflation. Consumers spend more but buy less, even less than they bought 4 years ago.

Relevant Retail – Less Auto, Gas and Restaurants – This group accounts for 60+% of Total Retail $. It has a variety of channels, so they took many 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 went on an up/down roller coaster in 2022. However, all months in 2022 set new records with December reaching a new all-time high, $481B, and an annual record of $4.81T. January had its normal drop, but real sales were also down vs 2022 and only 7% of the 21>23 growth is real. From 2019>23 sales grew 35.6% and 55% was real. This shows that inflation is a cumulative problem that began in 2022. Their Avg 2019>23 Growth: +7.9%, Real: +4.6%. The performance of this huge group is critically important. This is where America shops. Real sales are down 2.1% so consumers bought less than in 2022. They just paid more. That’s not good.

Inflation is slowing slightly but the cumulative impact is still there. Relevant Retail is now really down vs last year for 11 straight months. All other groups are up. However, when you check the real growth vs 2021, Auto & Gas Stations are still “really down” and Total & Relevant Retail have negligible real growth. Restaurants are by far the best performers. For Relevant Retail, we are still in Inflation Phase II. Consumer spending grows but the amount bought declines. Let’s hope that we can continue to avoid Phase III, when consumer spending drops.

Here’s a more detailed look at January by Key Channels

  • Relevant Retail: Avg Growth Rate: +7.9%, Real: +4.6%. All 11 channels were down from December but 10 were up vs 2022 & 2021. 7 were really up vs 2022 & 6 vs 2021. The negative impact of inflation is less but still there in the real data.
  • All Dept Stores – This group was struggling before the pandemic hit them hard. They began recovery in March 2020. They are down 47% from December but up vs January 2022 & 2021 & 2019. However, they are really down vs 2022 & 2019. Avg 2019>23 Growth: +1.1%, Real: -1.4%.
  • Club/SuprCtr/$ – They fueled a big part of the overall recovery because they focus on value which has broad consumer appeal. Inflation is still a big factor in their numbers. Sales are down from December but up vs 22 & 21. Their real sales are all down vs 22 & 21 and only 38% of their 25.4% lift from 2019 is real. Avg 19>23 Growth: +5.8%, Real: +2.3%.
  • Grocery- These stores depend on frequent purchases, so except for the binge buying in 2020, their changes are usually less radical. Inflation has hit them hard. $ are down from December. The increases vs 22 & 21 are strong, but inflation is stronger. Real sales are down for both and only 2.4% of the growth since 2019 is real. Avg Growth: +5.8%, Real: +0.2%.
  • Health/Drug Stores – Many stores in this group are essential, but consumers visit far less frequently than Grocery stores. Sales are down from December but are up in all other measurements vs 22, 21 & 19. Their inflation rate is low so 76% of their 17.7% growth from 2019 is real. Avg 2019>23 Growth: +4.2%, Real: +3.2%.
  • Clothing and Accessories – They were nonessential, and clothes mattered less when you stayed home. That changed in March 21 with strong growth through 22, especially December. January sales fell -52.5% but for the 2nd straight month all other all measurements are positive. 76% of their 2019>23 growth is real. Avg 2019>23 Growth: +4.4%, Real:+3.4%
  • Home Furnishings – In mid-2020 consumers’ focus turned to their homes and furniture became a priority. Inflation has slowed but was very high in 2022. Sales are down from December but up vs 22, 21 & 19. However, their real numbers are still down vs 2021 and only 18% of their growth since 2019 is real. Avg 2019>23 Growth: +5.3%, Real: +1.0%.
  • Electronic & Appliances – This channel has many problems. Sales fell in Apr>May of 2020 and didn’t reach 2019 levels until March 2021. Sales are down in all measurements but real sales vs 2022. This only happened because of an 8.0% deflation rate from 22>23. Avg 2019>23 Growth: -3.3%, Real: -1.6%.
  • Building Material, Farm & Garden & Hardware –They truly benefited from the consumers’ focus on home. The 2022 spring lift ended in May. Sales fell in Nov>Jan after a slight lift in October. Sales are up vs 22, 21 & 19, but when you factor in double-digit inflation, the real amount sold is down vs 22 & 21. Also, only 22% of their strong 30.5% sales growth since 2019 is real. In December 2022, it was 54%. Their Avg 2019>23 Growth is: +6.9%, Real: +1.6%.
  • 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. January $ fell -42.4% from December but are now positive in all other measurements. Inflation in this group is lower than most groups and most comes from Sporting Goods. 77% of their 39.0% growth since 2019 is real. Avg 2019>23 Growth: +8.6%, Real: +6.8%.
  • 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 and have continued to grow. Sales are -18.6% from December but up for all other measurements. In 2022 they had the biggest increase vs 2021 and vs 2019 they were 2nd only to NonStore. In 2023 they are 3rd vs 2022 but 77% of their 45.2% growth since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth is: +9.8%, Real: +7.8%.
  • 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 as sales exceeded $100B for the 1st time and they broke the $1 Trillion barrier for the year. Their growth slowed significantly in 2022 and now 2023 but all measurements vs 22, 21 & 19 are positive. 87% of their 81.2% increase since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth: +16.0%, Real: +14.3%.

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 and by the end of 2021 it had become very widespread. In 2022, there was a new challenge, the worst inflation in 40 years. Overall, and in most product categories it has slowed in Jul>Jan. On the surface, the Retail impact is almost invisible. Sales in the total market and in the Relevant Retail group set new records in 2022 but the growth rate slowed and the amount purchased fell, Phase II of strong inflation. December was again the peak of the Holiday Shopping season and monthly sales. As expected, sales fell across the board in January. Except for Relevant Retail the amount of product sold by the big groups in January was more than in 2022. This was not widespread among the individual retail channels. It was largely due to the biggest channels – Grocery, General Merchandise and Bldg/Hdwe/Farm. While inflation has slowed in most product categories, it is still very high for Food at Home and Tools/Hdwe. This had a big impact on real sales in specific channels and Relevant Retail, which has now been “really” negative vs last year for 11 straight months. Will this continue?

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 of these specially created aggregates are 100% accurate but they are much closer than the overall CPI or available aggregates.

Monthly CPI changes of 0.2% or more are highlighted. (Green = lower; Pink = higher)

I’m sure that this list raises some questions. Here are some answers to some of the more obvious ones.

  1. Why is the group for Non-store different from the Internet?
    1. Non-store is not all internet. It also includes Fuel Oil Dealers, the non-motor fuel Energy Commodity.
  2. Why is there no Food at home included in Non-store or Internet?
    1. 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.
  3. 6 Channels have the same CPI aggregate but represent a variety of business types.
    1. 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.
  4. Why are Grocery and Supermarkets only tied to the Grocery CPI?
    1. 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.
  5. What about Drug/Health Stores only being tied to Medical Commodities.
    1. An answer similar to the one for Grocery/Supermarkets. However, in this case Medical Commodities account for over 80% of these stores’ total sales.
  6. Why do SuperCtrs/Clubs and $ Stores have the same CPI?
    1. 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 actual product mix is different.