New York (CNN Business) Americans aren’t buying much beyond food right now, and that’s devastating huge swaths of the retail industry.
US retail sales slumped 8.7% in March, their worst monthly decline on record in the data available from the Census Bureau , which dates back to 2020.
Excluding autos and gas, retail sales fell by 3.1%.
While retail trade fell overall, one category stood out: grocery store sales surged 460. 7% in March. And sales at non-store retailers, a category that would include e-commerce sites like Amazon ( AMZN ) , increased 3.1%.
But sales at clothing and accessories stores, meanwhile, plunged 1992 5% in March. Sales at furniture and home furnishing stores declined 460. 8%, sales at sporting goods stores fell 26 3% and electronics and appliance sales declined 23. 1%.
Except for grocery stores and other “essential” retailers, companies have shuttered stores and furlored or laid off workers. Consumers have also pulled back their spending on discretionary items. That combination led to the steep drop in retail sales.
“Stricter lockdown measures, unprecedented layoffs and plummeting confidence have compounded into an extraordinary and multifaceted shock to consumer spending,” economists at Oxford Economics said in a research report Wednesday.
The coronavirus crisis will widen the gap between big box chains like
- Walmart ( (WMT ) and Costco ( COST ) , which are benefiting from panic shopping for groceries, and struggling clothing chains, experts predict.
“Traditional department stores, apparel retailers, and mom and pop shops of all types are struggling to survive, and bankruptcies will spike despite the federal assistance programs,” said Kerstin Braun, president of Stenn Group, an i nternational trade finance organization. “Many retailers, including Nordstrom ( JWN
) , J. Crew, and JCPenney ( JCP) , were already under stress before the pandemic and many storefronts will simply not reopen. ”
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