PHILADELPHIA — National retail and restaurant spending jumped dramatically in May as stores and dining began to reopen across parts of the country during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a preliminary sales report from the U.S. Commerce Department.
May sales were projected at $485.5 billion, a 17.7% jump from April. But those numbers were still 6.1% below what they were last May, noted the report, which relied on surveys given to about 5,500 retail and food service companies in the United States.
Still, Jaime Ward, the Boston-based head of retail finance for Citizens Bank, remained heartened by last month’s improvement.
“That pent-up demand is driving this,” he said, adding that some customers could have used stimulus checks to go shopping. “Part of it is (that) growth is coming off a really low-level month before.”
States in the South and Midwest began to reopen before those in the Northeast that had contended with an ongoing barrage of coronavirus cases.
It’s “revenge shopping,” Ward said. “Payback for being cooped up for 2½ months. They want to go out and do some things they’ve been denied.”
Certain retailers performed better than others, Ward said. Many groceries, hardware, arts and crafts, and liquor stores were able to weather the economic beat-down compared with other sectors, such as clothing.
“Apparel still has a long way to go before it gets back to last year’s levels,” he said. “ … There are some pretty clear winners and losers.”
Among other winners, Ward said, big-box stores deemed essential — Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and Lowe’s, among others — thrived during the pandemic.
“Some of the largest companies out there did very well and got bigger,” he said. “Meanwhile, a lot of the mom-and-pop (stores) had to stay closed, and that was tough.”