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Retail sales slowed in March, but spending was still higher than the same time last year, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Department of Commerce. 

Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales were $691.7 billion for March 2023, down 1% from February. However, retail and food sales were still 2.9% higher than in March 2022, the federal report said Total sales for the January 2023 through March 2023 period were up 5.4% compared to the same period a year ago. 

March sales were up in five out of nine retail categories on a yearly basis, led by online sales, health and personal care stores and grocery stores, but fell in all but three categories on a monthly basis. Specifics from key sectors include: 

  • Online and other non-store sales were up 1.9% month over month seasonally adjusted and up 12.4% unadjusted year over year. 
  • Health and personal care stores were up 0.3% month over month seasonally adjusted and up 7.3% unadjusted year over year. 
  • Grocery and beverage stores were down 0.1% month over month seasonally adjusted but up 5.6% unadjusted year over year. 
  • Sporting goods stores were up 0.2% month over month seasonally adjusted and up 3.3% unadjusted year over year. 
  • General merchandise stores were down 3% month over month seasonally adjusted but up 2.9% unadjusted year over year. 
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 1.2% month over month seasonally adjusted and down 1.9% unadjusted year over year. 
  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 1.7% month over month seasonally adjusted and down 2.2% unadjusted year over year. 
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were down 2.1% month over month seasonally adjusted and down 4.3% unadjusted year over year. 
  • Electronics and appliance stores were down 2.1% month over month seasonally adjusted and down 9.9% unadjusted year over year. 

Meanwhile the National Retail Federation’s calculation of retail sales – which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail – showed March was down 0.5% from February, but up 4.6% unadjusted year over year. In February, sales were up 0.5% month over month and up 6.7% year over year, the NRF said. 

NRF is forecasting that 2023 retail sales will grow between 4% and 6% over 2022. 

“Retail sales moderated in March after posting strong gains in the first two months of the year,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Continued easing of inflation and the overall strength of the job market and wages are keeping the fundamentals of the consumer economy strong and should support their ability to spend on household priorities through 2023.” 

NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said March spending reversed the strong pace of core retail sales seen earlier this year, but said he was optimistic sales would be positive going forward. 

“These results reflect both slower economic activity and lower prices because of easing inflation – which means fewer dollars spent even if consumers buy the same number of goods – but there is still a lot of spending in the economy,” Kleinhenz said “Keep in mind that households tend to shop less during the post-holiday season. In addition, tax refunds typically contribute to spending at this time of year but are smaller this year than last. Nonetheless, we are still looking at positive sales growth moving forward in 2023.”

NRF is forecasting that 2023 retail sales will grow between 4% and 6% over 2022.