US retail sales took a record plunge for the second straight month in April as the coronavirus crisis gutted the industry, new data shows.
Sales by retail and food service merchants plummeted 16.4 percent last month to $403.9 billion, the US Department of Commerce said Friday.
That’s worse than the 12 percent drop economists predicted and almost double the revised decline of 8.3 percent for March, when the feds recorded $483.5 billion in sales.
The nosedive came as lockdowns meant to curb the coronavirus forced businesses across the country to close or scale back operations as shoppers hunkered down at home.
“Maybe consumer spending will pick up from this point as the country starts opening back up, but it has a long way to go” before purchases return to the peak reached in January, said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank.
Sales tumbled in nearly every sector the feds track, with clothing and accessories retailers taking the most brutal hit. Their sales plummeted more than 78 percent to just $2.3 billion in April, the feds said.
Even food and beverage stores — which saw virus-related panic shopping in March — suffered a 13.1 percent decline to record about $70 billion in sales, though that was still better than February’s total of roughly $61 billion.
The only bright spot was an 8.4 percent jump in sales for “nonstore” retailers, which include internet merchants. E-commerce colossus Amazon has reported a surge in demand as consumers stayed indoors to avoid spreading or catching the virus.
Friday’s report was the latest sign of how the coronavirus pandemic has kneecapped the US economy. The unemployment rate surged to a record 14.7 percent in April amid massive job losses, and the nation’s gross domestic product suffered its biggest decline since the Great Recession in the first quarter.
But there’s a “light at the end of the tunnel” for small business owners as consumer spending shifts online, said Marwan Forzley, CEO of Veem, a business-to-business payment network. Business activity has also picked up in China now that the virus has waned there, he said.
“The current crisis is an opportunity to rethink the current boundaries and perhaps invest in technology to adopt online business models as that trend will continue to be strong for the foreseeable future,” Forzley said.
With Post wires
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