US retail sales up 17.7% in a partial rebound from plunge

U.S. retail sales recovered somewhat in May as the economy increasingly reopened from closures caused by the coronavirus and more shoppers felt confident enough to spend.  PHOTO CREDIT: Mary Altaffer

BALTIMORE — U.S. retail sales jumped 17.7% from April to May, with spending partially rebounding after the coronavirus had shut down businesses, flattened the economy and paralyzed consumers during the previous two months.

The Commerce Department’s report today showed that retail sales have retraced some of the record-setting month-to-month plunges of March (8.3%) and April (14.7%) as businesses have increasingly reopened. The pandemic’s damage to retail sales remains severe, with purchases still down 6.1% from a year ago.

The virus-induced recession has not only diminished spending in most sectors of the economy. It also has accelerated shifts in where people shop and what they buy.

The changes have in many cases intensified the financial strain on traditional physical stores and boosted online purchases. Sales at non-store retailers, which include internet companies like Amazon and eBay, rose 9% in May after posting growth of 9.5% in April. Clothiers achieved a stunning 188% monthly gain, but that was not enough to offset a 63.4% drop over the past 12 months.

Retail sales account for roughly half of all consumer spending, which fuels about 70% of total economic activity. The rest of consumer spending includes services, from cellphone and internet contracts to gym memberships and child care.