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Retail Sales Post Sluggish Gains in October

  • October retail sales in the United States grow by only 0.3 percent
  • Expiration of unemployment benefits and rising COVID-19 cases seen as factors in slowdown
  • Slower retail growth expected through the end of the year

Retail sales posted minimal gains in October, according to the latest data from the U.S. Commerce Department. Even as stores offered discounts aimed at bringing in early holiday shoppers, sales were up just 0.3 percent – the slowest growth since widespread retail shutdowns in the spring during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Economists had already expected only a modest increase of 0.5 percent, down from September’s more encouraging growth of 1.6 percent. Sales at clothing, sporting goods, and department stores were down significantly, and grocery and restaurant spending also decreased. Consumers continued to favor e-commerce shopping as the pandemic persisted, with online sales up 3.1 percent.

Overall retail trends during the pandemic have seen customers spending more on vehicles, home fitness equipment, home improvement, and home decor as they avoid public transportation and spend more time at home. Some areas, such as travel and the performing arts, continue to lag behind in the slow economic recovery.

Retail sales are expected to continue at a slow pace for the rest of the year, as the expiration of a supplemental $600 a week unemployment benefits and surging COVID-19 infections limit consumers ability or desire for shopping. Sales could be further diminished at the end of the year if two federal emergency unemployment programs are allowed to expire.

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