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Retail Monthly Sales Report: October Final, November Advance


According to John Gibbons, the Pet Business Professor and president of A GPS for Pet Businesses, the retail market hit bottom in April 2020 then began its recovery. The journey has been long and complex and consumer spending behavior continues to evolve. We have not beaten the COVID virus yet so we will continue to track the ongoing recovery of the retail marketplace with data from two reports provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The reports are the Monthly Retail Sales Report and the Advance Retail Sales Report. Both are derived from sales data gathered from retailers across the U.S. and are published monthly at the same time. The Advance Report has a smaller sample size so it can be published quickly – about two weeks after month end. The Monthly Final Report includes data from all respondents, so it takes longer to compile the data – about six weeks. Although the sample size for the Advance report is smaller, the results over the years have proven it to be statistically accurate with the final monthly reports. The biggest difference is that the full sample in the Final report allows us to “drill” a little deeper into the retail channels.

We will begin this update with the Final Retail Report for October and then we will move to the Advance Report for November. Remember, the retail impact of the pandemic began in March 2020, peaked in April, then recovery started in May. We will compare 2021 to both 2020 and 2019 to document the progress that the retail market has made towards a full recovery.

Both reports include the following:

  • Total Retail, Restaurants, Auto, Gas Stations and Relevant Retail (removing Restaurants, Auto and Gas)
  • Individual Channel Data – This will be more detailed in the “Final” reports and we fill focus on Pet Relevant Channels

The information will be presented in detailed charts to facilitate visual comparison between groups/channels of:

  • Current Month change – percent and sales vs. previous month
  • Current Month change – percent and sales vs. same month in 2020 and 2019
  • Current YTD change – percent and sales vs. 2020 and 2019
  • Monthly and Year To Date sales will also be shown for each group/channel

First, the October Final. Retail hit bottom in April 2020 but began recovery, hitting record sales in December. Sales fell in January/February but set a new sales records in March and then again in May. Sales declined through September but turned up in October. Here are the major retail groups. (All Sales are Actual, Not Seasonally Adjusted)

The final total is $0.7B less than the Advance report projected a month ago. All groups but Restaurants were down slightly. The specifics were: Relevant Retail: -$0.8B; Gas Stations: -$0.1B; Auto: -$0.3B; Restaurants: +$0.5B. Sales vs September were up in all groups. Total Retail Sales broke $600B for the 1st time in December. October sales beat that number and in fact were the fourth highest of all time. Auto continues to have the strongest recovery with an annual YTD growth rate since 2019 of +11.6 percent. While a sales dip in September is the “norm” in U.S. Retail, so is an October rebound. Importantly, for the fifth consecutive month, all groups were positive in all measurements vs. 2020 or 2019.

Now, let’s see how some Key Pet Relevant channels were doing in October.

  • Overall – No channels were down vs last month, a big change from 10 in September. In fact, the only negative was Office/Gift/Souvenir YTD sales vs 2019. October was the second biggest month in history for Relevant Retail.
  • Building Material Stores – Their amazing lift has slowed a little. The surge came as a result of pandemic spending patterns developed in 2020. Consumers began focusing on their homes. Their Spring lift has slowed in 2021 but Building and Farm stores are still going strong. Sporting Goods stores have a similar pattern. Sales took off in May 2020, hit a record peak in December and continued strong into 2021, peaking in March. $ slowed but have now stabilized after a big drop in September. YTD they are +47.4 percent vs. 2019, a Growth Rate of 21.4 percent!
  • Food & Drug – Supermarkets were +$77.7B in 2020. Sales are up vs September and +8.3 percent vs. October 2020. YTD $ are on par with the 2020 binge and +15.4 percent vs. 2019. Drug Stores were +$17B (+5.7 percent) for 2020. They had a record March. Sales have been relatively stable since then. Their YTD sales are +7.2 percent.
  • General Merchandise Stores – Sales in all channels fell in January and February then spiked in March. Monthly sales by channel have been up or down since then but all were strong in October, +10.1 percent vs. September. Clubs/Super Centers and Dollar Stores are leading the way with a combined annual growth rate of +8.9 percent. These channels promote value. Their success reinforces its importance to consumers. Discount Department Stores are now rebounding with all positive numbers.
  • Office, Gift & Souvenir Stores– Sales are up from September and were +15.1 percent vs. October 2020. The pandemic hit them hard. They are still down YTD vs 2019. Recovery will take more time, but their situation is improving.
  • Internet/Mail Order – Their sales rebounded after dipping in September. The pandemic continues to fuel this channel’s growth. In October 2019, their average annual growth rate was +14.1 percent. Now, it is +19.4 percent – up 37.6 percent.
  • A/O Miscellaneous – This is a group of small to midsized specialty retailers – chains and independents. It includes Florists, Art Stores and Pet Stores (22>24 percent of total sales). Pet Stores were usually essential, but most stores were not. In May 2020 they began their recovery. Their 2020 sales were up +12.1 percent. October 2021 was their sixth consecutive month over $10B and their second biggest month ever. YTD sales are +27.4 percent vs. 2020 and +40.9 percent vs. 2019.

Relevant Retail began recovery in May and set a sales record in December. Sales fell in January and February, turned up again in March and began a monthly up/down rollercoaster. October sales were up for all and all but one channel are ahead of all 2020 and 2019 sales. The key drivers are the Internet, Super Centers/Clubs/Dollar Stores and Hardware/Farm. Now, the Advance numbers for November.

The year 2020 was a memorable one for both its traumas and triumphs. In April and May, we experienced the two biggest retail sales drops in history, but the problems actually began in March. Retail sales began to recover in June and in October, YTD Total Retail turned positive for the first time since February. In December, Total Retail broke the $600B barrier – a historic first. Sales fell in both January and February but still set monthly sales records. Then they took off again in March, setting a new monthly sales record of $633B. April sales were down slightly but they took off again in May to set yet another sales record, $643.1B. June>Sept sales fell but then came back in October and November with November setting a new record of $649.3B. Only Relevant Retail was up vs. October, but all were positive in all other measurements for the sixth straight month. Some other areas of the economy are still suffering, some spending behavior has changed, and inflation has become a bigger factor in increases. However, consumers continue to spend “big bucks,” especially in Relevant Retail, and the overall Retail marketplace continues its strong recovery.

Total Retail – In March and then in May Total Retail set new sales records. From June>Sept sales dipped slightly but stayed above $600B. October brought a resurgence and in November sales continued to grow, setting another all time record with monthly sales of $649.3B. Relevant Retail deserves most of the credit for the record as sales for the other groups were down vs October. The current YTD average annual sales growth rate since 2019 for Total Retail is 9.4 percent, the highest ever in records going back to 1992. Inflation Note: Retail sales were +19.5 percent vs. November 2020. Inflation was +6.8 percent so up to 35 percent of the lift came just from higher prices. The “Real” increase was +12.7 percent. In November 2019 (pre-pandemic) Retail sales were +2.6 percent over 2018. Inflation was 2.0 percent – 78 percent of the lift. The “Real” increase was +0.6 percent. Long term, strong inflation can slow spending but right now, Retail is far outperforming pre-COVID 2019.

Restaurants – This group has no negative measurements vs 2020 or 2019 for six straight months. February 2020 YTD sales were up 8.1 percent vs. 2019. The Pandemic changed that. Restaurants started to close or cease in person dining in March and sales fell -$33.3B (-52.5 percent) compared to March 2019. Sales bottomed out in April at $30.1B, the lowest April sales since 2003. Sales started to slowly increase in May but never reached a level higher than 88 percent compared to the previous year. 2021 started off slowly. Through February, YTD sales were down -16.7 percent from pre-pandemic 2020 and -10.0 percent from 2019. In March sales took off and grew steadily from April through July. Sales dipped in August/September came back strong in October then fell in November. YTD their sales are +31.7 percent vs. 2020 and +5.2 percent vs. 2019. Their recovery is getting stronger.

Auto (Motor Vehicle & Parts Dealers) – Staying home causes your car to be less of a focus in your life. Sales began to fall in March and hit bottom in April. Auto Dealers began combating this “stay at home” attitude with fantastic deals and a lot of advertising. It worked. They finished 2020 up 1 percent vs 2019 and have returned to a strong positive pattern in 2021. The “attitude” grew amazingly positive in March and has slowed only slightly from April>November as sales exceeded $119.8B in all nine months – the nine biggest months in history. To show the effectiveness of their campaign, just look at the data. This group has exceeded $110B in monthly sales only 18 times in history. Fifteen of those occurred after the onset of the pandemic.  YTD Avg Annual Growth Since 2019 = +11.3 percent – the best performance of any big group.

Gas Stations – Gas Station $ales have been a mixed bag. If you drive less, you visit the gas station less often. Sales turned down in March 2020 and reached their low point in April. They moved up but generally stayed about 15 percent below 2019 levels for the rest of 2020. In February they were still behind 2020 in monthly and YTD $ but ahead of 2019 in both measurements. In March, sales skyrocketed and continued to grow to a record level in July. They fell in August/September but hit a record $55.3B in October. Sales fell in November, but they have been positive in all measurements vs 2019 & 2020 since March. Their comeback continues but inflation comes to the forefront in this channel. Gas prices can be pretty volatile. They dipped in the first two months of the pandemic but returned to more normal levels for the balance of 2020. Strong inflation began in 2021. In fact, November prices were 58.1% above 2020. That means that the 53.0 sales year over year sales lift in November was actually a decrease in the amount of gas sold. YTD Annual Growth Rate Since 2019 = +6.6 percent.

Relevant Retail – Less Auto, Gas and Restaurants – This is what we consider the “core” of U.S. retail and has traditionally accounted for about 60 percent of Total Retail Spending. In looking at the individual channels in this group, we have seen a variety of results due to many factors, like non-essential closures, binge buying, online shopping and a consumer focus on “home.” However, overall, April 2020 was the only month in which spending in this group was down vs 2019. Monthly $ales exceeded $400B for the first time ever in December. They finished 2020 up $260B, +7.1 percent. Their performance was the only reason that Total Retail was able to finish 2020 with positive numbers, +0.5 percent. Sales fell in January and February 2021 but set monthly records. In March they turned sharply up and then began an up/down $ roller coaster ride. In October they reached the second highest amount on record but November took over the top spot with $407.1B. March>November are 9 of the 11 highest $ months of all time. Relevant Retail has exceeded $361B in monthly sales 11 times in history. 10 of those have occurred since the onset of the pandemic. It is also very important that the Relevant Retail group has posted positive numbers versus last year and YTD for every month since April 2020 and their average YTD growth rate since 2019 is +10.5 percent. The recovery has become widespread as all channels have been positive in all measurements vs both 2020 and 2019 for four consecutive months. However, the primary drivers throughout the pandemic were and continue to be Nonstore, Grocery, Super Centers/Clubs/Dollar Stores plus a seemingly never ending  2020 “spring lift” from Hardware/Farm and Sporting Goods.

Now let’s look at what is happening in the individual retail channels to see where sales are coming from. November sales were up 7.4 percent from October and an increase occurred in 9 of 13 channels. Remember, the groups in the chart are less defined than in the Final Monthly reports and we will look across the whole market, not just pet relevant outlets.

Sales in nine of 13 channels were up vs October but all were up vs November 2020, vs. November 2019 and YTD vs 2020 and 2019. (Relevant Retail YTD Average Annual Growth Rate since 2019 = +10.5 percent)

After hitting bottom in April 2020, Relevant Retail has now beaten the previous year’s sales for 19 consecutive months. The group set an all-time record of $406.8B in December and finished 2020 +$260B vs. 2019. 2021 started strong, with record sales in every month, including a new all-time record of $407.1B in November. Essential channels are still the big drivers:

  • Nonstore Retailers – The biggest driver. Online shopping continues to grow in number of households and in sales.
  • Food & Beverage – Grocery– Restaurant sales are improving but consumers continue to eat and drink more at home.
  • Building Materials/Garden/Farm– Their “spring” lift may be ending but consumers are still focused on their homes.
  • Super Centers/Club/Value/Dollar Stores – They kept the GM channel strongly positive. Value is still a big consumer priority.

Regarding the Individual Large Channels (Includes YTD Average Annual Growth Rate since 2019)

General Merchandise Stores – Sales increased for all channels vs. October and all other numbers were also positive. Even Department Stores sales are growing increasingly positive. After dipping to +7.5 percent in February, the growth rate by Club/Super Center/Dollar Stores has stabilized at about 8.8 percent ever since. These stores are still the key to this channel.

  • YTD Avg Annual Growth: All GM = +7.6%; Dept Stores = +1.7%; Club/SuprCtr/$ = +8.9%

Food and Beverage, plus Health & Personal Care Stores – Sales in Grocery were down in March>May from 2020 – No surprise, as these were 2020 binge months. In Jun>Nov they beat 2020 $. Health/Personal Care finished 2020 at +1.8% but 2021 has been better. November was down 2.7% from October but YTD $ are +9.4%% vs 2020 and +10.8% vs 2019.

  • YTD Avg Annual Growth: Grocery = +7.5%; Health/Drug Stores = +5.3%

Clothing and Accessories; Electronic & Appliances; Home Furnishings – March > Nov have been spectacular for all these channels. The increase in Clothing vs November 2020 was less than usual but was still +35.3%. All were up vs October and also remained positive in all measurements vs 2020 or 2019 for the 9th consecutive month.

  • YTD Avg Annual Growth: Clothing = +5.6 percent; Electronic/Appliance = +3.6 percent; Furniture = +10.1 percent

Building Material, Farm & Garden & Hardware – Their “Spring” lift which began in 2020 has slowed but they have greatly benefited from consumers focusing on their home needs. They finished 2020 +53B (+13.8%). Sales took off in March, set a record in April, but have since slowed and stabilized. They are still +13.4% YTD. Avg Annual Growth = +13.6 percent

Sporting Goods, Hobby and Book Stores – Book & Hobby stores are open but Sporting Goods stores have driven the lift in this group. Consumers turned their attention to personal recreation and sales in Sporting Goods outlets took off. The group ended 2020 +5.5% vs 2019. The growth accelerated in 2021 with a strong spike in November, up 15.8% from October to $10.2B, the 2nd biggest month ever. November YTD they are +29.9% vs 2020. Avg Annual Growth = +17.1 percent

All Miscellaneous Stores – Pet Stores were deemed essential but most other stores were not, so closures hit this group particularly hard. Sales hit bottom at -$3.8B in April then began to rebound. They finished with a strong December and ended 2020 -$1.0B, -0.7 percent. In March 2021 sales took off and reached the $14+B level in May. They have stayed there and set a record of $15.3B in October. Sales fell to $15.0B in November, but it is still No. 2 of all time. YTD sales are now +27.5 percent vs. 2020 +26.9 percent vs. 2019. Their recovery is very real. YTD Avg Annual Growth = +12.7 percent (Fourth Best)

NonStore Retailers – Ninety percent of the volume of this group comes from Internet/Mail Order/TV. The pandemic accelerated the movement to online retail. In February 2020 NonStore sales were +8.6 percent YTD. In December monthly sales exceeded $100B for the first time. They ended 2020 at +21.4 percent, +$162.9B. This was 63 percent of the total sales increase for Relevant Retail Channels. Their 2020 performance beat the 12.9% increase in 2019 and every month in 2021 has produced record sales. November was +19.9 percent vs. October and set a new record of $105.4B. YTD sales are +14.4 percent. YTD Avg Annual Growth= +18.1 percent

Note: Almost without exception, online sales by brick ‘n mortar retailers are recorded with their regular store sales.

Recap – The year 2020 was quite a year. April and May had the two biggest year-over-year sales decreases in history while December sales broke $600B for the first time. This year may become even more memorable. November set a new sales record. March>November are nine of the 10 biggest sales months in history with the nine largest year-over-year sales increases ever. The total increase was +$1.05T, which is more than six times the -$174B decrease from March>May 2020 that caused so much concern. At year-end 2020, Restaurants and Gas Stations were still struggling but Auto had largely recovered. Relevant retail had segments that also struggled but they still led the way for Total Spending to finish the year +0.5 percent vs. 2019. This year has been even better. In June>November, all major groups were positive vs. both 2020 and 2019. The recovery has also become real for virtually all channels and monthly sales continue to set records. In fact, the current annual growth rates of +9.4 percent for Total Retail and +10.5 percent for Relevant Retail are the best ever. Retail has recovered and continues to grow but we’ll keep checking.

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