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May Retail Sales Make Record Jump

By Jennifer Saibil – Updated Jun 16, 2020 at 11:41AM

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After dropping while people stayed indoors, retail sales had their biggest monthly increase ever in May.

Customers are desperate to get back to spending. That became obvious when the U.S. Department of Commerce released May retail sales numbers Tuesday morning, showing a 17.7% surge in retail sales.

Stimulating the economy

Whether it was due to the easing of government lockdown restrictions or Americans using their stimulus checks, people drove retail sales higher after a 14.7% drop in April. The rise in spending still didn't meet 2019 levels, however, remaining 6.1% below May spending a year ago.

Three women laughing and shopping.

Image source: Getty Images.

Clothing and accessories sales had the biggest increase, rising 188%. Other big movers were home furnishing, which increased 90%, and sporting, music, and hobbies, which rose 88%. People put nonessential goods on hold while staying at home and cutting discretionary spending to save money, especially as many lost their jobs over the past few months. 

Clothing and accessories sales were still down 63% compared to 2019 levels, and home furnishings were 22% lower. Sporting, music, and hobbies, though, gained 5% year over year.

Other categories that moved higher than 2019 were building and gardening supplies, which increased 16%, and food and beverage, which gained 15%. 

The food services category, which includes restaurants, was up 29% but still 39% lower than last year.

Can it only get better?

President Donald Trump tweeted, "Wow! May retail sales show biggest one-month increase of ALL TIME, up 17.7%. Far bigger than projected. Looks like a BIG DAY FOR THE STOCK MARKET, AND JOBS!"

However, many companies, such as Starbucks and lululemon athletica, are still anticipating sales declines in the current quarter.

Jennifer Saibil has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Lululemon Athletica and Starbucks. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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