The U.S. Census Bureau reported Thursday that overall U.S. retail sales in August were up 0.6 percent month-over-month from July and up 2.5 percent year-over-year versus the comparable month in 2022.

The August year-over-year trend moderated from the 2.6 percent posted in the July year-over-year trend. The month-over-month trend accelerated compared to July, which had increased 0.5 percent month-over-month.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) commented that the sales increase developed as parents shopped for school supplies and other goods even as inflation continued and interest rates remained high.

“August retail sales show that consumers remain steadfast in the face of continued inflation and higher interest rates,” suggested NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Consumers are focused on household priorities, as evident by spending this back-to-school season. Entering the fall, we expect moderate growth to continue despite uncertainties like the direction of inflation and interest rates and a potential government shutdown.”

NRF’s calculation of retail sales, which excludes auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants to focus on core retail, showed August was up 0.1 percent seasonally adjusted from July and up 3.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year. In July, sales were up 0.7 percent month-over-month from June and up 3.3 percent year-over-year.

“NRF’s numbers show the pace of retail growth cooled from July but that consumers are still active even as they continue to be selective and price sensitive,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Households have the capacity to spend, but momentum is slowing, in part because savings built up during the pandemic are running lower and credit costs are rising. Consumer spending growth has slowed, but there is little hint of any sudden collapse.”

NRF’s numbers for the summer period were up 3.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year on a three-month moving average through August, and year-to-date sales were up 3.8 percent for the first eight months of the year.

Circana reported that following several months of year-over-year growth, August 2023 total retail sales revenue, including discretionary and general merchandise and CPG, remained unchanged compared to the same month last year. Unit sales declined 2 percent.

Circana also reported that in August 2023, overall dollar sales in discretionary general merchandise were down 5 percent, and unit sales fell 7 percent from the same month last year. The company also reported that dollar sales were up 3 percent in August in consumer packaged goods (CPG), food and beverage, but unit sales were down 1 percent. Non-edible CPG sales revenue was up 2 percent, and unit sales were down 3 percent.

“The purse strings are tightening and shifting when it comes to retail spending,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry advisor, Circana. “Inflation is easing, but consumers continue to feel the pinch of still-elevated food and beverage prices. Impacts of higher prices, lower demand, and weather disruption may be starting to extend beyond discretionary spending.”

On a yearly basis, the Census Bureau’s report for August saw sales up in five out of nine retail categories led by health and personal care stores, online sales and clothing and accessory stores, and up in all but two categories on a monthly basis. Specifics from key sectors include:

  • Sporting goods stores were down 1.6 percent month-over-month seasonally-adjusted and down 1.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 0.9 percent month-over-month seasonally-adjusted and up 3.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • General merchandise stores were up 0.3 percent month-over-month seasonally-adjusted and up 3 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Electronics and appliance stores were up 0.7 percent month-over-month seasonally-adjusted but down 1.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Online and other non-store sales were unchanged month-over-month seasonally-adjusted but up 7.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Health and personal care stores were up 0.5 percent month-over-month seasonally-adjusted and up 7.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 0.4 percent month-over-month seasonally-adjusted and up 2.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were up 0.1 percent month-over-month seasonally-adjusted but down 3.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 1 percent month-over-month seasonally-adjusted and down 7.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

Photo courtesy Target