NRF: Retail Sales Rose 17.7% YoY in March as Recovery Accelerated

As COVID-19 vaccine rollouts continued and government checks generated more spending power, retail sales rose 17.7% YoY and 7.4% from February 2021 in March 2021 according to data from the National Retail Federation (NRF). The Census Bureau’s outlook was even rosier, with estimates putting monthly retail sales 27.7% higher YoY and 6.7% over the previous month.

The disparity comes from the difference in how each organization calculates retail sales. Unlike the Census Bureau, the NRF excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail.

The NRF detected month-over-month and YoY gains in almost every category, even those that suffered tremendously during the pandemic. For instance, clothing and accessory store sales were up 18.3% month-over-month seasonally adjusted, and up 104.6% unadjusted YoY. Results in other categories included:

  • Sporting goods stores: Up 23.5% month-over-month, up 78.2% YoY;
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores: Up 5.9% month-over-month, up 49.6% YoY;
  • Building materials and garden supply stores: Up 12.1% month-over-month, up 32.4% YoY;
  • Online and other non-store sales: Up 6% month-over-month, up 30.7% YoY;
  • Electronics and appliance stores: Up 10.5% month-over-month, up 29.4% YoY;
  • Health and personal care stores: Up 5.7% month-over-month, up 7.7% YoY;
  • General merchandise stores: Up 9% month-over-month, up 6.1% YoY; and
  • Grocery and beverage stores: Up 0.7% month-over-month, but down 10.2% YoY.

The decline in grocery sales was attributed to the positive impact the pandemic had had on the category in early 2020. Supermarkets and similar retailers avoided lockdowns and benefited from customers stocking up, which negatively skewed March 2021 results. Conversely, categories like apparel skewed positive last month due to retailers mostly being closed at this time in 2020.


The NRF expects the positive sales momentum to hold strong as more and more shoppers feel comfortable going out and spending. Spring is poised to be a good time for retailers as confidence continues rising and COVID-19’s spread is put further under control.

“American households are clearly feeling the full effect of additional fiscal stimulus, gains in the job market and the reopening of the economy,” said Matthew Shay, President and CEO of the NRF in a statement. “Although there have been some recent issues related to vaccines, consumer confidence remains high and an optimistic outlook for the future continues to grow. Retailers remain committed, transparent and emphatic about prioritizing customer and employee safety as they welcome shoppers back into their stores this spring.”

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