Retail sales increased in August to $537.5 billion, up 0.6 percent, according to data published on Wednesday (Sept. 16) by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The reading followed July’s increase of 0.9 percent, revised from 1.2 percent, and is 2.6 percent above August of last year.
Economists had expected a 1 percent increase.
Most of the retail categories saw improvements last month. Motor vehicle sales swelled to $109.8 billion, up from $105.1 billion for the same month in 2019. General merchandise retailers saw sales increase to $60.3 billion, compared to $59.8 billion one year ago. Building materials and garden supplies reached $37.2 billion, up from $32.2 billion last August. Home furnishing sales rose to $10.2 billion from $9.8 billion last August.
But not all categories saw gains. Clothing sales fell to $17.7 billion in August, in part because most of the country’s workforce is telecommuting, down from $22.2 billion last August. Electronics sales also saw a slight dip to $7.8 billion last month, down from $8 billion.
The latest figures are in contrast to the Bureau’s report from last month. June saw total retail sales rise to $524.3 billion as the country reopened and consumers began returning to stores and restaurants, up 7.5 percent from $487.7 billion in May. Total sales increased by 1.1 percent in June compared to the same month the previous year. The new economic numbers provide an early estimate of monthly sales across various types of U.S. retail and foodservice firms.
Clothing in particular saw a big rebound. Even big-ticket items made it to shoppers’ lists, as sales of motor vehicles, furniture, clothing and electronics all increased.
This week, a PYMNTS survey found that six in 10 U.S. consumers reported living paycheck to paycheck. Almost half also reported having less than $2,500 in savings.
Faced with the pandemic’s economic uncertainty, Americans have learned to save. The U.S. personal savings rate hit an historic 33 percent of disposable income in April as Americans hunkered down amid COVID-19.
That trend toward belt-tightening and funneling funds into savings has carried on since then. As U.S. government stimulus payments hit consumers’ accounts, about a third of recipients pushed those funds directly into their savings accounts instead of spending the money.