Retail Sales Beat Forecasts, Spiking Highest Level Since June

woman shopping

Monthly retail sales hit $549.3 billion, up 1.9 percent in September, the biggest spike in three months, and the fifth month of increases, according to the retail sales report released on Friday (Oct. 16) by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The numbers include purchases at stores, restaurants, and online and top the forecast of a 0.7 percent increase and a forecast of an 0.8 percent gain by a Bloomberg survey of economists. 

Overall, retail sales are up 5.4 percent from September 2019. August sales were up 0.6 percent, according to the report. Total sales for the period of July 2020 through September 2020 were up 3.6 percent from the same period in 2019. 

The only retail sector that dipped was electronics and appliances. The other 12 major retail categories saw increases in sales, with clothing posting the most gains, followed by sporting goods. Car dealerships — about 20 percent of total retail sales — saw a 3.6 percent increase in sales. 

“It’s a shift from services that in many ways is forced because people have to be more cautious due to the [coronavirus] pandemic,” Barclays economist Blerina Uruci told The Wall Street Journal.

The report excludes healthcare and hospitality, which is where people spend most of their money, the news outlet noted.

Control group sales were up 1.4 percent from the prior month, also topping forecasts. That number does not include food services, car dealers, building materials stores and gas stations.

Proprietary research from PYMNTS shows total sales for retail and food services were roughly $546 billion in August, down from approximately $551 billion in July. That’s a change from historical norms when August is usually higher than July.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found that among recipients of the $1,200 stimulus payments, 33 percent of the roughly 12,000 individuals queried said they saved the payments, while 52 percent paid down debt.



New forms of alternative credit and point-of-sale (POS) lending options like ‘buy now, pay later’ (BNPL) leverage the growing influence of payments choice on customer loyalty. Nearly 60 percent of consumers say such digital options now influence where and how they shop—especially touchless payments and robust, well-crafted ecommerce checkouts—so, merchants have a clear mandate: understand what has changed and adjust accordingly. Join PYMNTS CEO Karen Webster together with PayPal’s Greg Lisiewski, BigCommerce’s Mark Rosales, and Adore Me’s Camille Kress as they spotlight key findings from the new PYMNTS-PayPal study, “How We Shop” and map out faster, better pathways to a stronger recovery.