Fact Checked

Coronavirus causes record drop in retail sales, according to government estimates

Men's suit jackets hanging in a clothing store Image: Men's suit jackets hanging in a clothing store

Editorial Note: Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors' opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted. Read our Editorial Guidelines to learn more about our team.
Advertiser Disclosure

We think it's important for you to understand how we make money. It's pretty simple, actually. The offers for financial products you see on our platform come from companies who pay us. The money we make helps us give you access to free credit scores and reports and helps us create our other great tools and educational materials.

Compensation may factor into how and where products appear on our platform (and in what order). But since we generally make money when you find an offer you like and get, we try to show you offers we think are a good match for you. That's why we provide features like your Approval Odds and savings estimates.

Of course, the offers on our platform don't represent all financial products out there, but our goal is to show you as many great options as we can.

The coronavirus has brought sweeping changes to life in America, and the negative economic impact is clear. New data indicates just how much activity has slowed down for the retail economy in particular.

Using preliminary data, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that estimated retail and food services sales were down 8.7% on a seasonally adjusted basis between February 2020 and March 2020 — the largest month-over-month decline since the census bureau began keeping records in 1992. Estimated sales were down in most retail categories year-over-year, too.

Which retailers have been hit hardest?

The economic outlook is especially rough for clothing stores, sporting goods and other hobby retailers, and vehicle dealers. Restaurants and bars have particularly been affected by social distancing measures and mandatory closures put in place to combat the coronavirus.

Retail category Percent change from March 2019
Clothing and accessories -50.7%
Vehicle dealers -24.9%
Furniture and home furnishing -24.6%
Restaurants and bars -23%
Sporting goods, hobby, musical instruments, and books -22.7%
Gas stations -18%
Electronics and appliances -15.9%
Health and personal care 4.3%
Building and garden materials 7.6%
Grocery stores 29.3%

The news isn’t universally bad for all retailers, though. As more Americans stay home and stock up on supplies, grocery stores and home improvement stores have seen a boost in sales.

What does this mean for Americans?

In its April Beige Book report, the Federal Reserve stated that “Economic activity contracted sharply and abruptly across all regions in the United States as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Accompanying the decrease in retail sales is a sharp increase in unemployment.

In the short term, individual Fed districts anticipate further layoffs as social distancing and shelter-in-place orders continue.

While people who have managed to keep their jobs may have taken pay cuts, with many industries reporting wage decreases, except for essential services like grocery stores.

What’s next?

If you’ve lost your job or your wages have been cut and you’re looking for some relief due to the loss of income, applying for unemployment benefits is a good first step.

And because some industries — such as grocery stores, home improvement stores and restaurant delivery — are adding jobs instead of laying people off, consider looking for temporary job opportunities to help offset lost income.