U.S. retail sales tumbled in March by the most on record as the coronavirus forced thousands of the nation’s merchants to close and left millions of Americans without a paycheck.
The value of overall sales fell 8.7% from the prior month, the biggest decline in records dating back to 1992, Commerce Department figures showed Wednesday. Estimates ranged from no change to a 24% drop, with a median projection of an 8% decline.
Eight of 13 major categories decreased, led by a 50.5% plunge at clothing stores and a 26.8% decline at furniture and home furnishing stores, while restaurants and bars were down 26.5%. Food and beverage stores posted a 25.6% surge as Americans stocked up on essential goods; sales also rose at health and personal care stores, general merchandise stores and nonstore retailers.
Virus containment measures escalated quickly in the month as states began closing restaurants and bars to dine-in customers and urging residents to stay home. Now, almost every state has issued a stay-at-home order and many businesses have temporarily shuttered in the wake. The month was also defined by millions of layoffs, which have continued into April, and sharply reduced spending power.
Retail sales were down 6.2% from March 2019 after a 4.6% year-over-year increase in February.