US Retail Sales Increased Slightly in August

Retail sales grew 0.3% in August

retail sales
Photo:

Vetta / Getty Images

Retail sales—which aren’t adjusted to remove the impact of inflation—were up to $683.3 billion, as Americans spending habits remain resilient amid high inflation.

All retail and food service sales changed little from the previous month but were up 9.1% since this time last year. Total sales for June through August were up 9.3% year-over-year.

Key Takeaways

  • U.S. retail and food service sales grew slightly in August from July.
  • Retail sales were up year-over-year by 9.1%.
  • Sales at gas stations were down from July, but still significantly higher than last August.

Changes in Retail Sales for August

Clothing and accessory stores saw a 0.4% increase since last month and sales were up 3.5% annually. Sporting goods, hobbies, musical instruments, and bookstores saw an increase of 0.5% month-over-month and an increase of 3.5% year-over-year as kids began preparing to return to school.

Online and other non-store sales decreased by 0.7% last month but were up 11.2% since August 2021. Health and personal care stores, such as drug stores, saw a decrease of 0.4% in August from the month prior and an increase of 1.5% year-over-year. Building and garden supply stores saw a month-over-month increase of 1.1% and 10.5% yearly.

Restaurant and bar sales increased by 0.7% for the month and were up 10.9% from last year. Food and beverage stores were up 0.5% month-over-month and up 7.2% year-over-year.

Car and parts dealers saw an increase in sales of 2.8% month-over-month and an overall increase of 6.7% year-over-year. Gas prices continued to dip and stations saw sales decrease 4.2% in August but were still up 29.3% since August 2021.

How Is the Retail Sales Report Used?

The U.S. Census Bureau report measures the U.S. retail industry each month by surveying around 5,500 employer firms to collect retail sales data. It shows the total sales and the percentage change for that month and reports on the percentage change in year-over-year (YOY) sales for the last 12 months.

Note

The retail sales report includes cars and parts, furniture and furnishings, electronics and appliances, department stores, food and drink, restaurants, sporting goods and hobbies, health care items, clothing and accessories, gas stations, and building and garden supplies.

Retail Sales Indicate Trends

Retail sales signal trends in consumer spending, which drive almost 70% of economic growth. Consumer spending is part of a country's gross domestic product (GDP), which is used as a general indicator of how an economy is doing.

Since the retail sales report comes out monthly, it is a more current measurement of economic health than GDP, which is reported quarterly. You can use the retail sales report to gauge the economy if you use it in context with other issued reports and economic conditions. If reports and conditions accompany a continuous monthly increase in retail sales, there is a good chance that the economy will continue growing.

It's Used in Other Reports

The information included in the retail sales report is used to create the personal consumption expenditures index, which is one of the subcomponents of GDP.

Personal consumption expenditures include purchases of durable and nondurable goods. It also includes services like housing, health care, retail, transportation, education, and many others. To gain a measurement of spending (by consumers) to production (by the entire country), economists divide personal consumption expenditures over a period by gross domestic product for the same period. This tells them how much of GDP growth (or shrinkage) consumer spending makes up.

Note

About 20% of annual retail sales occur during the holiday season.

GDP is an annualized number. GDP growth compares this annualized figure to the prior year. Keep in mind that GDP growth uses real GDP figures, which eliminates the effects of inflation. The YOY retail sales reports use nominal GDP figures. GDP growth reports and YOY retail reports could have significant differences if inflation is very high or if there is deflation.

It's Used by Businesses and Investors

Investors and businesses also use the retail sales report as an economic indicator to monitor the business cycle. Several economic indicators are used in conjunction to see where in the business cycle the economy is or where it might be headed. The report can help them create strategies for dealing with downswings or taking advantage of upswings.

Other Retail Reports

The National Retail Federation (NRF) surveys shoppers to find out how much they plan to spend on the major holidays. For instance, the report on Halloween spending provides early clues for the holiday shopping season. The NRF also reports on retail sales for Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and Back to School. 

Retail Sales Outlook

The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicted retail sales for 2022 would be strong in spite of supply chain issues and labor shortages. NRF predicts ongoing growth in retail trade. Specifically, it foresees developments in areas of retail tech (like ad media and personalization), as well as a resurgence of the brick-and-mortar store, as more consumers are venturing out and retail stores enhance their in-store shopping experiences to meet demand.

Was this page helpful?
Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Census Bureau. "Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services."

  2. U.S. Census Bureau. "Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services, March 2022," Page 2.

  3. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "Personal Consumption Expenditures/Gross Domestic Product."

  4. Bureau of Economic Analysis. "NIPA Handbook: Concepts and Methods of the U.S. National Income and Product Accounts." Page 5-5.

  5. National Retail Federation. "NRF Forecasts Retail Sales to Exceed $4.33T in 2021 as Vaccine Rollout Expands."

  6. National Retail Federation. "Retail Holiday and Seasonal Trends."

  7. National Retail Federation. "What's Ahead for Retail in 2022."

Related Articles