Featured Indicator: Monthly Retail Trade Data

As the economy continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and related business closures, retail trade data can be used to track the health of the nation’s retail sector. Monthly retail trade date is available from the U.S. Census Bureau and provides a comprehensive look at retail activity in the United States.

The monthly retail trade data is intended to provide current estimates of sales at retail and food services stores and inventories held by retail stores. Data is collected by surveying a sample of companies monthly with one or more establishments that sell merchandise and related services to final consumers. These retail companies provide data on dollar value of retail sales and end-of-month inventories.

Monthly Retail Trade Sales and Inventories estimates are released approximately 6 weeks after the end of the reference month. Statistics include retail sales, inventories, and ratios of inventories-to-sales. Estimates are both seasonally adjusted and unadjusted.

What is the data telling us?

The most recent data available is for March 2021. As a result of COVID-19, sales began to decrease in February 2020. Sales dropped to their lowest pandemic level of $409,942 million (seasonally adjusted) in April 2020- a 22% drop from January 2020. Since then, sales have steadily increased and were most recently $619,787 million – a 51% increase since April 2021.

Why is this important?

According to the Census Bureau: These data are widely used throughout government, academic, and business communities. The Bureau of Economic Analysis uses the estimates to calculate Gross Domestic Product. The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses the estimates to develop consumer price indexes and productivity measurements. The Council of Economic Advisers uses the estimates to analyze current economic activity. The Federal Reserve Board uses the estimates to assess recent trends in consumer purchases. The media use the estimates to report news of recent consumer activity. Financial and investment companies use the estimates to measure recent economic trends.

This widely accepted and used data set is an important tool in the toolbox of economic developers for understanding how national trends may be impacting local clusters.


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