Retail Sales Declines Continued in December

Evan Clark
·2 min read

December retail and food service sales fell a seasonally adjusted 0.7 percent from November — a sharper decline than the 0.1 percent drop economists projected.

But that official reading from the Census Bureau showed some improvement from November, when sales declined by 1.4 percent. There was also year-over-year improvement, with December sales up 2.9 percent from a year ago.

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The fashion-centric world, which saw a mixed performance month to month, is still digging itself out of a huge hole from last year.

Apparel and accessories specialty stores saw December sales gain 2.4 percent compared with November, but were still down 16 percent from a year earlier. And department stores were down 3.8 percent from November and 21.4 percent from December 2019.

Those numbers largely sync up with what the industry has reported.

Nordstrom Inc., for instance, said its sales for the nine week period ended Jan. 2 fell about 22 percent.

That had chief executive officer Erik Nordstrom — like most of the rest for retail — looking for silver linings.

“We’re encouraged by the increasing momentum throughout and following the holiday season as we continue to unlock new ways to better serve customers on their terms with greater convenience and connection,” Nordstrom said. “By leveraging order pickup and store fulfillment capabilities across our two brands of Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack, we’re seeing benefits to our customers as well as to our business.”

E-commerce businesses became more important than ever in a locked-down 2020, but there were some signs of easing in the head-long rush to log on and buy.

December sales at non-store retailers fell 5.8 percent from November, although they were still up 19.2 percent from a year ago. Online sales were hampered late last year by a spike in demand that stressed the shipping system and might have sent some people to stores instead.

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