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Retail’s Rebound Sustained Through April

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The retail rebound continues.

U.S. retail sales rose 23.3 percent last month from April 2020, and 10.8 percent compared to April 2019, were fueled by momentum across restaurants, e-commerce and even department stores, according to Mastercard.

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Online sales grew 19.9 percent in April compared to April 2020, and 95.6 percent compared to April 2019.

Department stores rose 202.7 percent in April from a year ago and 9.6 percent from April 2019.

Spending at restaurants grew 118.8 percent last month versus April 2020, when widespread shutdowns crippled the industry. Spending at restaurants rose 5.7 percent last month from April 2019.

The figures were released early Thursday morning by Mastercard SpendingPulse which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment. The results exclude automotive and gasoline sales.

“On a year-over-year basis, retailing has been positive all this year, but it actually started to turn positive back in September,” Steve Sadove, Mastercard senior adviser and former chief executive officer of Saks Inc., told WWD. “We are in a period of recovery with a lot of room to run.”

April’s retail sales growth, Sadove said, “reinforces that the American consumer is healthy and eager to spend, especially on categories such as restaurants, which have faced restrictions over the past year.”

He cited several factors at play including stimulus funds, jobs opening up, enormous pent-up demand, the high consumer savings rate, the healthy stock market, and the desire to reconnect with friends and family.

“Restaurants have turned a corner,” Sadove added. “Luxury is substantially up versus two years ago; jewelry is up and categories like home improvement have not slowed down. And you are still seeing enormous positive momentum on the digital side. But there is also dramatic growth with apparel where there is newness and novelty. People want to get away from sweatpants. They want to get dressed up and go out to dinner.”

But Sadove did temper his assessment on the retail sector, saying, “I am concerned you are going to have inventory issues across the board because the demand pickup has been so rapid. We could have out of stock performances, but also good margins.”

April’s retail results follow the positive trends seen last March, when Mastercard reported U.S. retail sales increased 26.3 percent compared to March 2020. Mastercard said retail sales continue to benefit from stimulus payments, coupled with warmer weather and broader reopening across the country.

According to Mastercard, e-commerce sales represent 21.6 percent of total U.S. retail spending. E-commerce represents 21 percent of the volume generated by department stores, and currently, 61.7 percent of apparel sales, and 15.7 percent of jewelry sales are generated online.

Mastercard SpendingPulse findings are based on aggregate sales activity in the Mastercard payments network, coupled with survey-based estimates for certain other payment forms, such as cash and check.