Economy Watch: Americans Didn’t Shop With Enthusiasm in July

U.S. retail sales dropped for the month, but did manage a small gain from the same time last year.
Credit: U.S. Census Bureau, Percent Change in Retail and Food Services Sales, July 2016
Credit: U.S. Census Bureau, Percent Change in Retail and Food Services Sales, July 2016

U.S. retail sales were stagnant in July, neither gaining much nor losing much, according to the Census Bureau on Friday. Without the sales of cars—which have been an important driver of retail sales growth since the end of the recession—retail sales actually dropped 0.3 percent for the month. Since July 2015, however, overall sales did manage to gain 2.3 percent.

Only a few retail categories gained much at all in July. Car sales were up 1.3 percent for the month, and likewise nonstore (internet) retailers enjoyed a bump up in sales of 1.3 percent. Other kinds of retailers enjoyed little growth, or suffered monthly declines in sales. The largest drop for the month, besides gas stations as the price of gas fell, were sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores, down 2.2 percent.

Compared with a year ago, most retailers have seen larger sales, but none more than internet sales, which were up 14.1 percent year-over-year in July. Other winners for the year include health and personal care stores (sales up 7.8 percent); food service and drinking places (up 5 percent); and even furniture stores, which suffered a major winnowing after the recession, but which have seen sales grow 4.3 percent since last year.

In the losing category, department stores continue their major contraction, with sales down 4 percent for the year, so Macy’s store closure announcement this week was no surprise. Electronics stores suffered a drop of 3.8 percent for the year, also unsurprising for a retail category bedeviled by the ease of Internet-based competition. Gas station sales were off 11 percent for the year, but that was because of the drop in gas prices.