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Chicago Tribune Business NewsMay 15, 2020
'It's like a hurricane came and leveled the entire economy': Retail sales fall 16.4%, a record
.S. retail sales tumbled by a record 16.4% from March to April as business shutdowns caused by the coronavirus kept shoppers away, threatened the viability of stores across the country and further weighed down a sinking economy.The Commerce Department's report Friday on retail purchases showed a sector that has collapsed so quickly that sales over the past 12 months are down a crippling 21.6%. The severity of the decline is unrivaled for retail figures that date back to 1992. The monthly decline in April nearly doubled the previous record drop of 8.3% — set just one month earlier.The sharpest declines from March to April were at clothing, electronics and furniture stores. A long-standing migration of consumers toward online purchases is accelerating, with that segment posting a 8.4% monthly gain. Measured year over year, online sales surged 21.6%.Other than online, not a single retail category was spared in April. Auto dealers suffered a monthly drop of 13%. Furniture stores absorbed a 59% plunge. Electronics and appliance stores were down over 60%. Retailers that sell building materials posted a drop of roughly 3%. After panic buying in March, grocery sales fell 13%.Clothing-store sales tumbled 79%, department stores 29%. Restaurants, some of which are already starting to close permanently, endured a nearly 30% decline despite shifting aggressively to takeout and delivery orders.For a retail sector that had already been reeling, a back-to-back free-fall in spending poses a grave risk. Department stores like Neiman Marcus and J.Crew have filed for bankruptcy protection. Hotels, restaurants and auto dealerships are in danger. Nearly $1 of every $5 spent at retailers last month went to non-store retailers.An April analysis by a group of academic economists found that a one-month closure could wipe out 31% of non-grocer retailers. A four-month closure could force 65% to close.The plunge in retail spending is a key reason why the U.S. economy is contracting. Purchases a
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