Skip to main content

The FRED® Blog

Where retail sales have been booming

Sporting goods, home project supplies, and groceries are way up

We recently discussed how some areas in the retail sales sector have suffered dramatic declines during the pandemic. Today, we highlight three areas where sales have actually been booming.

FRED just added monthly state retail sales data from the Census Bureau, and we can enlist the help of GeoFRED to show the details. In the first map, we see that sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores have been doing remarkably well across the nation. From July 2019 to July 2020, national sales increased 18.7%, with a range of 7.7% to 29.1% across states. People have curtailed some activities during the pandemic, but they added new ones to spend their time on.

The second map shows building material and garden equipment stores, and it looks like people have ramped up their home projects. Nationwide, these sales increased 16.3%, with a range of 12.6% to 21.1% across almost all states, which is a remarkably tight spread. (We exclude our home state of Missouri, which had only a 4.6% increase.)

The third bright spot we focus on here is food and beverage stores. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may have expected this, since we’ve discussed how restaurant and bar sales have diminished as people have switched to consuming their food and drink at home. The map below shows how this shift has differed across states: from a 4.4% increase to a whooping 23.3% increase, which is remarkable for basic commodities. (One notable exception is a decline in Vermont.) Nationally, sales of food and beverages went up 13%. People may not have consumed much more than usual, but they did it differently—at home.

How these maps were created: A good starting point is the release table for monthly state retail sales. Click on a state series and then navigate below the graph to the related material, which includes a link to the GeoFRED map. (Or you could click on “View Map” on the graph and then “Edit Map”). Zoom-in or -out as you wish.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

Let’s talk turkey prices

...as well as prices in Turkey

If you know this blog, you may have been expecting a holiday-themed post this week. We did our best, but—spoiler alert—it’s a bait and switch. We don’t have any recent price data on turkey meat. What we do have are recent price data on meat in Turkey. And, as you can see from the FRED graph above, that nation suffers from chronically high price inflation. (FYI: FRED has over 2,000 series of Turkish data.)

This year, Thanksgiving is more challenging in the U.S. not just for travelers but also for statistical agencies. The data-collection process for many of the series available in FRED has been disrupted by the pandemic, as agencies scramble to change their procedures to accommodate health guidelines and changing economic practices.

One example is the price of turkeys, which is usually available in the consumer price index. The Bureau of Labor Statistics hasn’t been able to provide an update since March 2020. Until the data become available again, we’ll have to serve up something less traditional. But we remain thankful for all the work these statistical agencies do to collect the data to make sense of our economy and make progress in the face of national challenges.

How this graph was created: Search for “turkey CPI” and click on the relevant series. From the “Edit Graph” menu, use the “Add Line” tab to search for the other series. Then be sure the indexes for both series are set to 100 on the same date.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: CP0112TRM086NEST, CUSR0000SAF112

The state of decline in retail sales

Using new Census data to compare U.S. states

FRED recently added more new data from the Census Bureau: 11 categories of retail sales for U.S. states. A previous post looked at national declines in retail sales, and national data continue to show the pandemic’s damaging effects on this sector.

As with most economic measures, though, the effects aren’t equally distributed across the nation. So let’s use GeoFRED maps to examine individual state experiences—specifically, July 2020 sales compared with July 2019 sales for (1) electronics and appliance stores, (2) gas stations, and (3) clothing and clothing accessories stores.

The first map covers electronics and appliance stores. National data show a decline of 4.7% year over year, which would be even more concerning in normal times but is not the worst downturn we’ve observed during the pandemic. The map shows a lack of uniformity, with some strong decreases (California’s –14.2% at worst) and some strong increases (Montana’s +21.3% at best). For consumer durables like electronics and appliances, timing is important: In hard times, households postpone these purchases. When things improve, they catch up. The lack of uniformity here likely stems from the different phases of the pandemic across U.S. states.

The second map covers gas stations: National data show a decline of 16.2% year over year. Here, the effects are much more uniform across states, with a narrow range of –19.7% to –12.9%, except for Washington’s –6.7%. It’s hard to find substitutes for gasoline purchases, and all states experienced a similar drop in demand for travel and commuting.

The third map covers clothing and clothing accessories, where the story is similar to the one for gas stations. National data show a decline of 21.9%, and state numbers range from –26% to –12% (except for New Jersey’s –2.9% and Connecticut’s –5%).

For national accounting purposes, clothing isn’t considered a durable good, as electronics and appliances are. And that may be for the good reason that, as these map shows, clothing sales behave differently from those durable goods sales.

How these maps were created: A good starting point is the release table for monthly state retail sales. Click on a state series and then navigate below the graph to the related material, which includes a link to the GeoFRED map. (Or you could click on “View Map” on the graph and then “Edit Map”). Zoom-in or -out as you wish.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann



Subscribe to the FRED newsletter


Follow us

Back to Top