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August 18, 2022

US consumers still shopping despite inflation but clothing not priority

US consumers are continuing to shop despite high inflation but failing to prioritise wallet spend on clothing, new figures show.

By Beth Wright

Core US retail sales, as calculated by the National Retail Federation (NRF), rose in July even as overall sales reported by the Census Bureau remained flat on a monthly basis, and both calculations showed strong year-over-year gains as consumers kept shopping despite high inflation.

“Retail sales grew in July, supported by declines in prices at the gas pump and moderately lower inflation,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay says. “Consumers are adapting to higher prices by prioritising essentials like food and back-to-school items, and retailers are working hard to absorb the impact of higher costs and help customers stretch their hard-earned dollars. However, policy measures like removing China tariffs, enacting smart immigration reform and investing in supply chain resiliency are needed to relieve inflationary pressure and lower costs for American families.”

NRF chief economist, Jack Kleinhenz, adds: “Retail sales were up considerably compared with a year ago even though consumers are more discerning in this economic environment. Consumer spending was an encouraging signal as the economy kicked off the third quarter. Nonetheless, inflation is still disturbingly high even as it eases and is the most important challenge for consumers and retailers. The future path of inflation remains a key factor for the economy and monetary policy as the Federal Reserve works to bring price increases under control.”

The US Census Bureau today said overall retail sales in July were unchanged from June but up 10.3% year over year. That compared with increases of 0.8% month over month and 8.5% year over year in June. On a three-month moving average, sales were up 9.2% year over year.

Sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores were down 0.6% on last month but up 2.3% on July of last year.

NRF’s calculation of retail sales – which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail – showed July was up 0.8% from June and up 7.1% unadjusted year over year. In June, sales were up 0.6% month over month and up 6% year over year.

NRF’s numbers were up 7% unadjusted year over year on a three-month moving average as of July. Sales were up 6% year over year for the first seven months of the year, keeping results on track with NRF’s forecast that 2022 retail sales will grow between 6-8% over 2021.

July sales were up in all but three retail categories on a yearly basis, led by online sales, building material stores, and grocery stores, and increased in all but two categories on a monthly basis.

Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 0.6% month over month seasonally adjusted but up 0.2% unadjusted year over year, according to the NRF.

Online and other non-store sales were up 2.7% month over month seasonally adjusted and up 18.1% unadjusted year over year.

The figures come after US retail sales increased in June even as inflation climbed higher and drove up prices across the board, but sales at clothing stores were down sequentially and in comparison to last year.

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