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Specialty Store Sales Suffered Near-Total 89.3% Thrashing in April

Retail’s 16.4 percent April downfall isn’t the biggest shocker in the latest monthly sales report. Though last month’s dismal performance outgunned March’s 8.3 percent tumble, specialty stores saw unprecedented carnage with an 89.3 percent year-on-year decline.

Specialty stores sales for apparel and accessories in April generated just $2.37 billion, down precipitously from $22.25 billion a year ago. Department stores took a 47 percent blow in the year-over-year comparison for April. According to monthly data from the U.S. Census Bureau, April sales totaled $6.09 billion versus $11.48 billion in the prior-year period.

Nonstore retailer emerged as the big winner—no surprise, given consumers’ mass migration to e-commerce as nonessential stores shut down. Sales in April rose 21.6 percent to $78.38 billion from $64.48 billion in the year-ago period.

On a sequential basis, sales at specialty apparel and accessories stores fell 78.8 percent to $2.37 billion in April from $11.21 billion in March, while retail sales at the department store group declined 28.9 percent to $6.09 billion from $8.56 billion for the same respective periods.

“These retail sales numbers are not a surprise, given the current state of affairs. The vast majority of retail stores have been closed, we are in the midst of historic unemployment and when it comes to personal finances, discretionary spending takes a back seat to essentials,” Matthew Shay, National Retail Federation president and CEO, said. “Prior to this pandemic, retail was setting records in year-over-year growth, employment and investment. It is a resilient industry serving a smart consumer, and despite today’s report, we know it will be leading our nation’s economic recovery as this crisis recedes.”

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Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer and contributes $3.9 trillion to the nation’s annual gross domestic product.

The coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. saw retailers temporarily closing stores in mid-March as state and local governments issued shelter-in-place mandates to stop the spread of the virus. Most stores are still closed, although some states have begun to relax certain restrictions to restart their local economies.

Retailers that are able to reopen have slowly started bringing some stores back, but they still need to abide by health and safety protocols. Mall operators such as Simon Property Group and The Macerich Co. have also started reopening some of their malls, but with masks, sanitizers, social-distancing signage and floor reconfigurations to prevent crowding.

Many retailers now offer curbside pickup or enable shoppers to retrieve purchases at storefronts inside a mall, and limit the number of customers in the store to follow density requirements. Most are also allowing only contactless payment, either by credit card or digital wallet options. Macy’s is also installing plexiglass shields by its registers at checkout where it is more difficult to maintain social distancing.