April retail sales jump 0.4% as e-commerce climbs 9.6% from last year

Dive Brief:

  • Retail sales in April (excluding sales from auto dealers, gas stations, building materials and food services) rose 0.4% from March 2018, according to the latest monthly report from the U.S. Commerce Department’s census bureau. March sales were revised upward to a 0.8% rise, from the previously reported 0.6%.
  • Nine of the 13 major retail categories posted positive sales results in April compared with March, according to retail think tank Coresight Research’s breakdown of the report. Clothing and accessories rose 1.4%, furniture sales rose 0.8% and e-commerce rose 0.6%. But health and personal care sales fell 0.4%, and electronics and appliance sales fell 0.1%, the Census Bureau said.
  • E-commerce sales in the period rose 9.6% from last year, while overall retail sales excluding auto rose 4.8% year over year, according to the government’s report.

Dive Insight:

April marked another month of robust sales for retailers, despite a cold spring in many parts of the country, thanks to an overall healthy economy.

“Spending was sluggish at the start of 2018, but April marked the second consecutive month of growth,” according to a report from Coresight CEO Deborah Weinswig. “More broadly, consumer spending has been lifted by a falling unemployment rate, which in April was a historically low 3.9%. Measures of consumer confidence have remained high in recent months, which economists attribute to the recent tax cuts, a healthy labor market and broader economic growth.”

And tax cuts could help mitigate the rise in gas prices this year, according to NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz.

“Retail sales growth remains solid and on track as households benefit from tax cuts even though they have faced unseasonable weather and bumpy financial markets,” Kleinhenz said in a statement emailed to Retail Dive. “And a solid job market, recent wage gains and elevated confidence translate into ongoing spending support.”

But it’s worth looking at just where shoppers are spending the most: As first quarter reports have come in for 39 retail chains tracked by Retail Metrics, retail earnings are up 15.8% year over year, with just four retailers accounting for all that reported growth. Drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens both turned in “sizeable” first quarter surprises that accounted for about 300 basis points of reported earnings growth, according to a Retail Metrics note emailed to Retail Dive. Costco was responsible for another 300 basis points of earnings growth and Home Depot, which reported a 20% year-over-year first quarter operating income boost this week, is responsible for 1,000 basis points.

Without Home Depot, CVS, Walgreens or Costco however, reported Q1 retail earnings fell 0.7%, according to Retail Metrics.

E-commerce continues to outpace in-store sales, according to two indices of U.S. retailers from ProShares, measuring year to date sales through market close on May 14. The Solactive-ProShares Bricks and Mortar Retail Store Index (which includes leading legacy retail companies) fell 3.08%, while the ProShares Online Retail Index (which tracks tracks U.S. and non-U.S. retailers primarily selling online or through other non-store channels with a market capitalization of at least $500 million, including Amazon) rose 19.26%.