13 May, 2017
Sales at general merchandise stores slipped 0.5% on the month before, and were down 0.7% year-on-year; while department store retailers booked a rise of 0.2% on March, and a drop of 3.7% on April last year.
Compared with a year earlier, total sales in April rose 4.5%. Also, the March 2017 change in sales was revised from down 0.2 percent to up 0.1 percent.
April sales for furniture and home furnishings retailers jumped 3.8% from the same month previous year, lagging behind the 4.5% gain for the broader retail sector.
Adding to retailers' problems, an unusually warm February hurt sales of winter wear, while a delay in tax refunds in the same month crimped spending in the February-April quarter. The figures were not adjusted for inflation, but annual sales growth comfortably exceeded year-over-year growth in consumer prices. The housing recovery has been an important variable in consumers' willingness to spend.
While retail is in a state of flux, the source of those difficulties is not mainly due to a major slowdown in consumer spending, Saunders said.
But many forecasters predicted household spending would bounce back this spring, based on underlying health in the economy.
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Yet a category that includes online retailers reported sales growth of 1.4 percent, the strongest of any group.
Consumer confidence has soared since the presidential election, but spending hasn't increased as much as the jump in optimism would suggest.
Still, retail chains have announced thousands of store closures so far this year, and some have filed for bankruptcy protection, as US shoppers increasingly shift their spending to online platforms from physical storefronts and malls.
This story has been corrected to show that a category including department stores reported a 0.5 percent drop in sales.
Meanwhile, sales at sporting goods and hobby stores accelerated by 0.6% in the month, although declined 2.4% on the year before. Sales were up at gasoline stations and building-materials stores, but fell at furniture and clothing stores.