Retail Channel Monthly $ Update – June Final & July Advance

Time for our monthly update on U.S. retail sales by channel. The current COVID-19 crisis has caused turmoil in the Retail Marketplace. Consumer spending behavior has changed and continues to evolve. In this report we will track the changes and migration between channels. We will do that with data from two reports provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Reports are the Monthly Retail Sales Report and the Advance Retail Sales Report. 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 – approximately 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.

This means to get the full picture in our monthly channel update we need to look at the latest release of both reports. We will begin with the Final Retail Report from June and then move to the Advance Retail Report for July. This will also allow us to better track the consumers’ evolving spending behavior in terms of channel migration.

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 2019
  • Current YTD change – % & $ vs 2019
  • Monthly and Year To Date $ will also be shown for each group/channel

We’ll start with the June Final report. The retail market hit bottom in April then began a slow recovery which continued in June. First, we will look at some major retail groups. (Note: The Data in all graphs is Actual, Not Seasonally Adjusted)

The final total is $6B more than the Advance report projected a month ago. Relevant Retail and Restaurants were both $2.5B more than expected and the Auto segment was $1B better. Gas Stations’ $ were the same. $ales were up vs May across the board. Driven by Relevant Retail and Auto, Total monthly sales were also up vs 2019.

The Spring Lift is usually winding down in June but the COVID crisis has pushed the Spring timing back. Things began to open up in May and this continued in June. However, all but Relevant Retail were down YTD vs 2019.

Now, let’s see how some Key Pet Relevant channels were doing in June.

  • Overall – While sales in 6 of 11 groups were down vs May, 9 of 11 showed increases vs June 2019.
  • Building Material Stores – This group usually has their biggest annual lift in Spring. This is unchanged and even amplified. While Farm Stores sales were down vs May, they have spectacular increases vs 2019. Although Sporting Goods stores are not included in this group, they have a similar Spring lift pattern. Their sales took off in May and continued to grow spectacularly in June, turning positive for YTD vs 2019.
  • Food & Drug – Supermarket sales are down slightly from May but show strong growth vs 2019. After 2 months of slowed sales Drug Stores came back strong in June and are again positive across the board.
  • General Merchandise Stores – Sales in $ Stores and Clubs/SuperCtrs slowed down vs May but are still strong vs 2019. $ Stores are showing exceptional strength. Discount Department store sales were generally slowing before the pandemic. This trend has continued and accelerated slightly.
  • Office, Gift and Souvenir Stores – In May and June they began to slowly re-open, but this group was hit hard.
  • Internet/Mail Order – The pandemic has accelerated this channel’s growth vs 2019. This will likely continue as the crisis has introduced many new consumers to online shopping and the behavior is likely to become habitual.
  • A/O Miscellaneous – This is a group of small to midsized specialty retailers – chains and independents. It includes Florists, Art Stores and Pet Stores. Pet Stores account for 22 to 24% of total sales. Pet Stores were usually deemed essential, but most stores were not. The others began reopening in May and the number grew in June which produced an increase vs 2019. Strong early year sales and this rebound pushed YTD sales up 7.9%.

May was the beginning of a slow recovery which continued in June as even more businesses began to re-open. The Relevant Retail Segment turned positive in all measurements in May and stayed that way in June. Although many segments are now contributing, the Internet, Supermarkets, SuperCtrs/Clubs/$ Stores and Hdwe/Farm are the key drivers. Let’s see how the situation is progressing. Here are the Advance numbers for July.

April and May were the 2 biggest spending drops in history. In June, monthly sales turned positive for the first time since February as Total Retail was up $18B vs 2019. In July the recovery continued, +$20B but we’re still down -$74B YTD.

Total Retail – Total Retail spending increased $20.4B, +3.8% vs 2019, slightly more than the +3.4% in June. It’s hard to remember, but in February 2020 sales were up $60B, +6.6% YTD versus 2019. Then came COVID-19. Hopefully, we hit bottom at -$112B in May. We’re moving in the right direction but are still down -$74B YTD and -$134B from February.

Restaurants – Due to the reimplementation of closures in some areas, the Spending increase slowed to +$3.5B over June and sales were down $11.5B vs 2019. In February sales were up $9B. Then came the forced closures. Re-openings began in May but ran into problems in July.  Delivery/Pickup can’t make up the difference as spending is down $95B YTD.

Automobile & Gas Stations – When you are staying home your car becomes less of a focus in your life. Auto Dealers, both new and used, began combating this attitude with some fantastic deals and a lot of advertising. They started winning this battle in June as monthly sales turned positive versus 2019. Although sales are down $31B YTD, they are up $18B vs 2019 in the last 2 months. Gas Station sales increased in May, June and July over the previous month, but they are still down -$49B YTD. People are still not driving as much, whether for commuting or road trips.

Relevant Retail – Less Auto, Gas and Restaurants – Many non-essential businesses began to shutter their doors in March but there was also a rash of binge/panic buying for “necessities” and a big lift in groceries as consumers focused on home cooking which drove spending up $19B. April brought a full month of closures and an end in binge buying, spending dropped $34B from March. In May, the overall market began to reopen so spending began to move in the right direction. In June and now July the growth continued. Although openings became more widespread in June and July the primary drivers have been Nonstore, Grocery and SuperCenters/Clubs & $ Stores along with an enhanced spring lift from the Hardware/Farm and Sporting Goods channels. As a result, the Relevant Retail group now has posted positive numbers versus last month, last year and year to date for 3 consecutive months and is up $100B YTD vs 2019.

Now let’s look at what is happening in the individual retail channels across America. In July, consumer spending in the relevant retail market grew even more positive versus 2019. Let’s see where the $ came from. These groups are less defined than in the Final Monthly reports and we will look across the whole market, not just pet relevant outlets.

The increases were widespread – 11 of 13 channels beat June $ and 10 of 13 channels beat July 2019. However, in YTD numbers, only 7 are showing an increase. The YTD decreases are coming from channels of nonessential businesses.


 After a full month of stay at home and widespread closures there was a surge in May. Things have truly opened up in June and July and sales continue to increase. However, the essential channels are responsible for the lift vs 2019.

  • Nonstore Retailers – Even more consumers are online shopping.
  • Food & Beverage, especially Grocery– Restaurant $ are still down so consumers continue to eat & drink at home.
  • Sporting Gds/Hobby/Books – Stores re-opened and consumers began to return to outside recreational activities.
  • Bldg Materials/Garden/Farm – A bigger than usual Spring lift continues as consumers focus “on their home”.
  • SuperCtrs/Club/Value/$ Strs – Sales slowed in April but came back in May and continue to grow. This group turned the whole Gen Mdse channel positive. It clearly shows that value is still a consumer priority.

Regarding the Individual Large Channels

General Merchandise Stores – Regular Department stores are reopening which has cut the losses for total Department Stores as Discount Department stores continue to slowly fade. Club/SuperCtr/$ stores provided the big positive force. In April consumers dialed back their panic buying and spending on discretionary items was also down significantly. Since May we have seen consumer spending return to a more normal pattern in the big and small stores that promise value.

Food and Beverage, plus Health & Personal Care Stores – The Grocery segment is still driven by increased Food sales due to a slow restart by restaurants, up 12.3%, +$7.2B. Sales in the Health, Personal Care group are up vs June and vs July 2019 but remain down YTD. The situation is improving with more reopenings and Drug Store sales growing again.

Clothing and Accessories; Electronic & Appliances; Home Furnishings – As reopening became even more widespread in July, sales grew for the third consecutive month. Home Furnishing even registered a slight increase vs July 2019. However, all 3 channels are down double digit percentages in YTD sales. Clothing Stores are by far the worst performers as sales were down 20% vs July 2019 and 36% YTD.

Building Material, Farm & Garden & Hardware – Sales fell slightly from June, -6.5%. However, this channel continues to benefit from consumers turning their focus to their home needs, including house and yard repair and improvements. This has accelerated and extended their Spring lift. Sales were up 16% vs July 2019 and up +25.5B (+11.3%) YTD.

Sporting Goods, Hobby and Book Stores – Book and Hobby stores are open and sales in Sporting Goods stores have taken off as Consumers again sought outdoor recreation. Although sales fell slightly from June, -3.9% they were up 19% vs July 2019. YTD sales were down $3.4B in April. In July this deficit had been cut to -$0.9B. If current trends continue through the summer, their YTD numbers could turn positive by September or maybe even August.

All Miscellaneous Stores – This group is mostly small to medium specialty stores – both chains and independents. Pet Stores are essential but most other stores are not, so closures hit this group particularly hard. Sales began to rebound in May and continued to grow through July when they finally beat the monthly sales for 2019. In February they were up $2.6B YTD. Through July,  they are down -$3.1B. They are moving in the right direction but still have a long road ahead.

NonStore Retailers – 90% of the volume of this group comes from Internet/Mail Order/TV businesses. The COVID-19 crisis has only accelerated the ongoing movement to online retail. In February NonStore was up 8.6% YTD. In July, they are up 19.8%, +$85.5B. Their increase is 85% of the total $ increase for all Relevant Retail Channels. They are the undisputed leader and their performance far exceeds their 12.9% annual increase in 2019. Since much of their annual increase comes from holiday sales, 2020 is on track to be a banner year for NonStore Retailers.

Note: Almost without exception, online sales by brick ‘n mortar retailers are recorded along with their store sales in their regular channel. Whether they are up or down, their online sales are included in the totals.

Recap – April and May saw the 2 biggest year over year monthly sales declines in history. Restaurants, Auto and Gas Stations increased sales from May through July. The Auto segment is showing positive monthly numbers vs 2019 but Restaurants and Gas Stations are still struggling. The Relevant Retail segment has provided the only true positive as sales are up in all measurements for 3 consecutive months. However, for many segments in this group there is still a long way to go. In July Total Retail was positive for the second consecutive month and Relevant Retail appeared to be moving towards a more routine pattern – a new normal. We have recently seen a resurgence of the virus and retail restrictions are being reimposed in many areas. The impact on retail in July was negligible but this is going to be a long battle with no end in sight. We will continue to monitor the data and provide you with regular updates as the situation evolves.