Economy Watch: Retail Sales Bounce Back in September

Both physical and nonstore retail sales are up for the year, with e-commerce continuing its decade-long pattern of growth.
Percent Change in Retail and Food Services Sales Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services, September 2016

Percent Change in Retail and Food Services Sales Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services, September 2016

U.S. retail and food services sales for September surged upward for the month by 0.6 percent compared with August, the Census Bureau reported on Friday. Compared with September 2015, sales were up 2.7 percent, and sales for the third quarter of 2016 (July through September) were up 2.4 percent compared with third-quarter 2015.

Breaking things down by broad category, physical store retail sales—the kind that most retailers and their landlords care about—were up 2.2 percent for the year. Nonstore retail sales (mostly internet) gained 10.6 percent for the year, continuing its decade-long pattern of growth, and food service and drinking places enjoyed an increase of 6.1 percent since last year. The bureau adjusts its figures for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes. With inflation generally less than 2 percent, all the broad retail categories saw some growth.

Besides food service and drinking places, other kinds of retail that have done well compared with a year ago include building material and garden equipment stores, with sales up 5.6 percent for the year; health care and personal care stores, up 5.4 percent; and “miscellaneous store retailers” (the likes of dollar stores), up 5.6 percent. Other year-over-year winners included furniture stores, grocery stores and auto dealers, noted the bureau.

Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores saw no growth nor any loss in sales compared with last year (0.0 percent). Losing retail categories for this report included electronics stores, down 3.8 percent in sales compared with last year, and department stores—many of which are in death spirals—which suffered a loss of 6.4 percent compared with a year earlier. Gas station sales, affected mostly by the price of gasoline, were down 3.4 percent year-over-year.