Retail sales increased a strong 0.8 percent  in March (exceeding expectations ) following similarly strong gains in January and February. Taken together, retail sales grew a whopping 8.0 percent at an annual rate from the fourth quarter of 2011 to the first quarter of 2012 and jumped 6.4 percent from the same quarter last year. That means that the average American spent $186 more per month in 2012 Q1 at retail stores than they did in 2011 Q1. Pretty impressive.
The figure above shows the growth rates by type of retail store and shows that over the past year, sales growth has been widespread. In fact, sales increased in all but one sales category: electronics and appliance stores. Remember, the monthly retail sales figures are by the type of store, not product. Therefore, that decline may be attributable to consumers shifting where they purchase products – for instance, buying online or from warehouse clubs/supercenters.
The fastest growing retail sales category was building materials, garden equipment, and supply dealers stores, which saw12.5 percent growth. This may be due to a mix of unseasonably warm winter weather and the improving housing market. At other types of business, retail sales growth ranged from 8.8 percent at gasoline stations (due in part to higher gasoline prices) to 1.8 percent at health and personal care stores.
Consumers spent the most at general merchandise stores, which include department stores, warehouse clubs and supercenters. Expenditures at these types of stores averaged about $472 per month in the first quarter. These sales were followed by food and beverage store spending (primarily grocery stores) and gasoline stations.
~Mark Doms, Chief Economist, U.S. Department of Commerce
April 16, 2012
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