The retail sector has recovered to pre-pandemic levels as it heads into the holiday season. In October, the retail sector — which includes consumer-facing businesses including stores, restaurants, and gas stations — made $553 billion in sales, according to data from the US Census Bureau. That’s about 5% higher than the $527 billion in sales in February and 34% higher than the $413 billion sold in April.
Not all segments of the sector have recovered, with food services and drinking, gas stations, and clothing stores all showing sales in October more than 12% below February figures. One sector, however, has increased sales throughout the pandemic: online shopping.
E-commerce makes up a growing share of retail sales.
Quarterly data since the third quarter of 2019 shows growth, especially starting in April of this year. Quarterly e-commerce sales peaked in the second quarter at $211.6 billion.
While overall retail sales during the second quarter of 2020 declined 3.5% over the same period a year ago, online sales increased by 44.5%. The latest data from the third quarter shows a 36.7% growth in online sales compared to the same period in 2019. Overall retail sales between these periods were up 7%.
E-commerce’s share of retail sales increased from 11.3% in the fourth quarter of 2019 to 16.1% in the second quarter this year. During the third quarter, that figure dropped to 14.3% of all sales.
While sales in some brick-and-mortar retail sectors have grown, others remain below pre-pandemic levels.
Food and beverage stores like groceries had a spike in sales at the start of the pandemic. October sales were 9% higher than sales the previous October, inflation-adjusted.
The food service and drinking sector was most impacted from February to April due to lockdowns, mandated shutdowns, and social distancing requirements in much of the country. Sales have improved since then, but October’s $55.6 billion in sales was still 14% below the $65.4 billion in sales in February.