Mastercard SpendingPulse: U.S. Retail Sales Grow in February Despite Winter Blast

Another Big Month for E-commerce, which Increased 54.7% YOY

March 4, 2021/Mastercard

Image Credit: Mastercard

Despite the inclement weather felt across many parts of the country this February, U.S. retail sales excluding automotive and gasoline increased 4.6%* year-over-year when adjusted for Leap Year, according to Mastercard SpendingPulseTM. Online sales grew 54.7% compared to 2020. Mastercard SpendingPulse measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment.

At a national level, key retail trends from February include:  

  • Grocery Aisle Touchdown: With more people watching football’s big game from home, Grocery spend was up 30% the three days prior. That contributed to the Grocery sector growing +12.4% YOY for the month.
  • Love is in the Air—and in the Mail: Also known for being the month of love, February saw Jewelry spend rise +5.9% and +63.1% online YOY. Restaurant spend remained down (-13.5%) but has showed improvement over the past two months.  
  • Cabin Fever Leads to Home Enhancements: No big surprises here, as Furniture & Furnishings (+8.6%) continued to post solid gains as seasonally cooler weather led to home improvements and décor projects.
  • Apparel Shopping Continues to Shift Online: While Apparel sales were down -5.3% overall, Apparel e-commerce sales grew +47.3% YOY. This month, 73.9% of all Apparel purchases were made online; a year ago, in February 2020, 47.5% were purchased online vs. in-store.
  • Stimulus Sales Lift Continued, though Fading: The infusion of stimulus payments in early January appeared to boost consumer spending in January and through early February, though the impacts have waned.

At the local level, the situation varied widely. A series of winter storms the week ending February 20 affected retail activity across the South—no state more than Texas. Mastercard SpendingPulse analysis shows how the extreme winter freeze impacted retail sales locally and at the national level. 

  • On February 17, Dallas, Austin and Houston all had year-over-year total retail sale declines of 35-50% as retail locations closed amid crippling cold. With Texas typically accounting for approximately 10% to 11% of U.S. retail sales volume, this widespread event pulled the national growth rate down –2.2% for the week.
  • Online sales activity also took a hit as power outages limited consumers’ ability to recharge phones and other devices. This lack of connectivity drove online sales in the region into negative territory for several days. 
  • As the weather cleared, a wave of recovery spending with daily YOY rates exceeded 30% in markets such as Dallas, Austin and up to Nashville.

“While in-store sales decelerated slightly compared to last month as a result of winter storms, consumers are continuing to show up online,” said Steve Sadove, Mastercard senior advisor and former CEO of Saks, Inc. “From jewelry to apparel, e-commerce has opened doors for consumers to shop online while warmer days, widespread vaccinations and the loosening of restrictions appear on the horizon.”

*Data has been adjusted to account for the leap year in 2020. Without seasonal adjustment the total retail sales growth would be +1%.

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