Retail sales rose higher than expected in January, reaching a total of $568 billion, a 5.3% increase from December 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The jump in consumer spending after three consecutive months of declines is largely attributed to the $600 stimulus payments shoppers received as part of the $900 billion package passed by Congress in December 2020 to counteract the economic impact of the ongoing pandemic.
Every major category saw spending increases, including the food and drink establishments hit hard by the pandemic. These saw a 6.9% increase from December 2020, although sales are still down significantly year-over-year. Electronics and appliances as well as furniture and home furnishing stores both marked double-digit increases over the previous month.
Online sales continued to track gains as well, growing another 11% in January as consumers continued to turn to digital channels in lieu of shopping in stores.
Retailers in general are optimistic about the outlook for the year, according to a new survey from the International Council of Shopping Centers: 55% of those surveyed say they expect a return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021. In the interim, large retailers are balancing their efforts to drive both online and in-store sales, with 78% saying their marketing efforts will center around the digital customer experience and 73% noting that in-store sales were a priority.
“For retail and retail real estate, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t spurred a total reinvention, but a rapid acceleration of trends that were already taking shape,” said Tom McGee, President and CEO of ICSC in a statement. “Retail has proven itself to be integral to our economy, its recovery and our communities. The investments made by retailers and commercial real estate companies to prioritize safety have been definitive markers of successful adaptation during the pandemic, and the work they’ve done to enhance their omnichannel strategies better positions our industry to withstand future disruption.”