April 8, 2021/Mastercard
U.S. retail sales growth rates increased by double-digits in March as we hit the one-year mark since the first Covid lockdowns impacted retail sales. According to Mastercard SpendingPulseTM, U.S. retail sales excluding automotive and gasoline increased 26.3% year-over-year in March, and online sales grew 56.8% compared to 2020. Mastercard SpendingPulse measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment.
Retail sales benefited from the infusion of stimulus payments, coupled with broader reopening across the country. This is particularly evident when looking at the first and second halves of the month:
- Sales in the first half of March increased 1.6% vs. a year ago, when consumers were hitting the stores and stocking up in the face of the pandemic.
- In comparison, during the second half of the month, retail sales rose 46.9% YOY. This growth reflects both the positive boost of the stimulus payments on consumer spending as well as the lockdowns that weakened retail sales across the country in the same period in 2020.
The unique retail scenario of last March is also seen in the year-over-year comparison for the sectors.
For instance, in March 2020, discretionary sectors such as Apparel and Jewelry experienced a dip in spend when people first started social distancing; this has led to significantly elevated growth rates this March.
Essential sectors, such as Grocery, faced the opposite situation as sales surged last year as consumers stocked up; Grocery fell into negative growth territory this month when compared to the strong growth in March 2020. Grocery sales are up (+7.5%) when compared to March 2019, however.