A fresh batch of stimulus checks sent consumer purchases surging in March as the U.S. economy continued to get juice from aggressive congressional spending, according to CNBC. Advance retail sales rose 9.8 percent for the month, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. That compared to the Dow Jones estimate of a 6.1 percent gain and a decline of 2.7 percent in February. Spending for the month was broad-based, boosting sales by nearly 28 percent from March 2020, as pandemic-related business closings began. March 2021 represented the best month for retail since the May 2020 gain of 18.3 percent, which came after the first round of stimulus checks.
Total Retail's Take: This news from the Commerce Department, coupled with a decline in new jobless claims and increased vaccination rate, has retailers and other businesses feeling optimistic about the potential post-pandemic economy. Here's a sampling of feedback from across the industry:
"The dramatic increase in March retail sales over the same period last year confirms that a confident consumer is driving the economic rebound, and that should continue through the remainder of 2021,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a press release from the trade association. “American households are clearly feeling the full effect of additional fiscal stimulus, gains in the job market, and the reopening of the economy. Although there have been some recent issues related to vaccines, consumer confidence remains high and an optimistic outlook for the future continues to grow. Retailers remain committed, transparent and emphatic about prioritizing customer and employee safety as they welcome shoppers back into their stores this spring.”
"The staggering increase seen in March is welcomed by retailers across the country following February's dip," Marwan Forzley, CEO of Veem, a payments platform which works with thousands of U.S. retailers, tells Total Retail. "Retailers are now hoping it's onwards and upwards for the industry and that February's decline in sales was merely a hiccup in America's economic recovery. Spring break will have certainly impacted sales in March, and now all eyes are turning to summer vacations with retailers hoping that those who have amassed a stockpile of excess savings will increase spending in preparedness for vacations. So far, the vaccine rollout has been hugely successful and has increased consumer confidence as people now have peace of mind that they can spend more time in public spaces, including shopping malls, responsibly with little risk to themselves and others."
"February’s severe winter weather kept many consumers at home, causing retail sales to fall across many categories," says Naveen Jaggi, president, retail advisory services, JLL. "But March’s spring weather brought extra bright spots with further vaccine rollout and more stimulus checks hitting bank accounts, leading to a major surge in sales across all retail sales categories. With an additional 916,000 jobs added last month, more money is streaming into the economy. And as consumer confidence and demand continues to grow, we expect the sector to continue its strong rebound as we emerge from the pandemic."