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Retail Sales Inch Up in April, Apparel Gets a Boost

Clothing closed out a positive month on the change of seasons.

Retail sales, including food services but excluding cars and car parts, ticked up 0.3% in April over the previous month to $396 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The results represented a 4.8% increase over April 2017.

Retail sales increased 0.4% from March and 4.8% over the previous April. The increase was led by clothing and accessory store sales, which were up 1.4%; furniture stores, up 0.8%; and gas stations, up 0.8%.

“Retail sales growth remains solid and on track as households benefit from tax cuts even though they have faced unseasonable weather and bumpy financial markets,” NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “The tax cuts and higher savings levels should help consumers afford the recent surge in gasoline prices. And a solid job market, recent wage gains and elevated confidence translate into ongoing spending support.”

Non-store sales, which primarily indicates e-commerce business, were $55.9 billion, up 9.6% over the $51 billion earned during the same period last year. Sales for this category totaled $211 billion for the first four months of the year.

Clothing and accessories stores brought in $22.5 billion in sales in the month, up from $22.2 billion in March. Year to date, sales for this sector reached $78.3 billion, an 3.6% increase over the prior-year period.

IHS Markit attributed the boost in apparel sales to spring-like weather, calling it the sector’s “best month of sales since March 2017.”

Department stores, excluding leased departments, reached $12.5 billion in April. Sales for the month were effectively flat when compared to March. The total fell short of the $12.7 billion it achieved in April 2017.

Gas stations had the biggest year-on-year gains, with an 11.7% increase.