May Retail Sales Show Strong Year-Over-Year Growth

NRF, Shopping, retail

Retail sales in May softened a bit from April but not surprisingly showed strong year-over-year gains as the U.S. economy continues to recover.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), retail sales in May were down 1.2% seasonally adjusted from April but up 17.3% when compared to May 2020. NRF figures exclude automobile dealers, gas stations and restaurants. 

Unadjusted May sales as calculated by the NRF totaled $388.6 billion, the second-highest level of spending on record, outpaced only by $414.7 billion in December.


“While May retail sales were down slightly, largely due to supply chain constraints, the more accurate indicator remains in the year-over-year data which, as the NRF calculates, showed growth of over 17%,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the NRF. “While there are downside risks related to labor shortages, supply chain bottlenecks, tax increases and over-regulation, overall, households are healthier and consumers are demonstrating their ability and willingness to spend.”

The U.S. Census Bureau said overall retail sales in May were down 1.3% seasonally adjusted from April but up 28.1% year-over-year. Despite occasional month-over-month declines, sales have grown year-over-year every month since June 2020, according to Census data.

“We are at a highly elevated level of spending, with dollar amounts in recent months some of the highest we’ve ever seen,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist with the NRF. Long-term trends in the number of dollars spent tell much more about the continuing economic recovery than whether sales were up or down from month to month.”

Kleinhenz said consumer demand continues to be strong even as the impact of the government stimulus has faded. The pent-up demand for retail goods is likely to remain through the summer.

Key Retail Sectors:

  • Electronics and appliance stores were down 3.4% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 90.8% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Health and personal care stores were up 1.8% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 25.8% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • General merchandise stores were down 3.3% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 9.3% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Online and other non-store sales were down 0.8% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 8.2% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but down 0.2% unadjusted year-over-year.