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January Retail Up, Especially Nonstore Sales

The latest numbers from the U.S. Commerce Department showed that U.S. retail sales rose 0.4 percent in January — well over Bloomberg’s median analyst forecast of 0.1 percent growth — to hit $472.1 billion. Further, revised numbers from December 2016 showed a 1 percent increase over the month before.

Consensus is that steady rates of hiring, a rise in wage growth and a continued push in the retail sector to provide discounts and promotions have all led to the increase in consumer spending in January.

Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc., was quoted as saying before the Commerce Department’s report release, “We will see decent retail sales in coming months. The job market is tight. The fundamentals continue to be very supportive. The story for 2017 will again be one of the consumer driving the economy.”

By various segments, purchases of electronics and appliances rose 1.6 percent last month, while purchases of sporting goods rose 1.8 percent over December. Clothing retailers had a 1 percent increase in receipts.

Automotive and motor vehicle parts dealers saw a 1.4 percent decrease in sales in January, though year on year (YoY) that segment still managed to be up 6.8 percent over January 2016. Furniture and home furnishing sales were flat last month, though up 1.2 percent YoY.

But while the bulk of the retail industry saw at least some growth last year, the commerce department numbers show that nonstore sales grew 12 percent YoY, totaling $49.22 billion in January of this year. Nonstore sales technically include mail orders and door-to-door sales, though the majority of nonstore sales can be attributed to online retail.

Year on year, physical store sales in January rose 2.5 percent to $239.19 billion. So while physical retail still retains the majority of sales volume, nonstore sales’ rate of growth certainly outpaced physical.

Since nonstore sales include retail segments in fast decline, sales growth purely in eCommerce is likely to be even higher than the nonstore rates. The Commerce Department is scheduled to report on fourth quarter eCommerce sales figures this coming Friday.

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