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Today the U.S. Census Bureau released preliminary estimates of nationwide retail sales in December 2020 and revised estimates for November 2020. (The data include both brick-and-mortar and Internet sales.)

Notable Decline in Monthly Sales... In December, seasonally adjusted U.S. retail sales declined for the second month in a row. In particular, sales dropped by 0.7 percent from November to December, resulting in a cumulative two-month decline of 2 percent from October to December. On one hand, this two-month decline was much smaller than drops associated with severe economic contractions, such as spring 2020 or the worst parts of the Great Recession. On the other hand, such declines are very uncommon during periods of economic growth.

…But Monthly Sales Remain Higher Than Last Year. Despite the decline noted above, December marked the seventh straight month in which sales were higher than last year. In particular, sales in December 2020 were 2.9 percent higher than sales in December 2019.

2020’s Full-Year Total Slightly Exceeds 2019’s. December sales, while disappointing, were strong enough to push 2020’s full-year total slightly above 2019’s. Total retail sales in 2020 were 0.4 percent higher than total retail sales in 2019.


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