The data confirms reports that "people are going out and spending and that in-store traffic has picked up,” NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “After a disappointing February, there was a perfect alignment of factors supporting a surge in shopping in March. Further reopening of the economy was encouraged by economic stimulus payments, the public health situation improved with more vaccinations, employment grew and there was seasonal activity around Passover, Easter and spring break. Even with some stimulus money going to savings, consumers’ finances are healthy, and they are willing to spend. Retail sales supported by rigorous fiscal and monetary policy continue to be a bright spot in the economy and have provided momentum during this awful pandemic.
NRF’s calculation of retail sales – which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail – showed March was up 7.4 per cent seasonally adjusted from February and up 17.7 per cent unadjusted year-over-year. That compared with a month-over-month decrease of 3.4 per cent and an increase of 7.2 per cent year-over-year in February. NRF’s numbers were up 12.7 per cent unadjusted year-over-year on a three-month moving average.
March’s gains come as NRF is forecasting that 2021 retail sales will increase between 6.5 per cent and 8.2 per cent over 2020, for a total between $4.33 trillion and $4.4 trillion. Retail sales during 2020 increased 6.6 per cent despite, beating the previous record growth rate of 6.3 per cent in 2004.