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Retail Channel Monthly $ Update – March Final & April Advance

The pandemic started in March 2020. In the Retail sector, we have seen both record drops and record highs. The market has generally recovered but now we are being hit by extreme inflation. This can affect retail sales, so we’ll continue to track the retail market with data from two reports provided by the Census Bureau and factor in the CPI from US BLS.

The Census Bureau Reports are the Monthly and the Advance Retail Sales Reports. Both are derived from sales data gathered from retailers across the U.S. and are published monthly at the same time. The Advance Report has a smaller sample size so it can be published quickly – about 2 weeks after month end. The Monthly Final Report includes data from all respondents, so it takes longer to compile the data – about 6 weeks. Although the sample size for the Advance report is smaller, the results over the years have proven it to be statistically accurate with the final monthly reports. The biggest difference is that the full sample in the Final report allows us to “drill” a little deeper into the retail channels.

We begin with the Final Report for March and then move to the Advance Report for April. Our focus is comparing 2022 to 2021 but also YTD 2019. We’ll show both actual and the “real” change in $ as we factor inflation into the data.

Both reports include the following:

  • Total Retail, Restaurants, Auto, Gas Stations and Relevant Retail (removing Restaurants, Auto and Gas)
  • Individual Channel Data – This will be more detailed in the “Final” reports, and we fill focus on Pet Relevant Channels

The information will be presented in detailed charts to facilitate visual comparison between groups/channels of:

  • Current Month change – % & $ vs previous month
  • Current Month change – % & $ vs same month in 2021
    • Current Month Real change – % vs same month in 2021 factoring in inflation
  • Current YTD change – % & $ vs 2021
    • Current YTD Real change – % vs 2021 factoring in inflation
  • Current YTD change vs 2019 – % & $
    • Current Real change YTD vs 2019 – % factoring in inflation
  • Monthly & YTD $ & CPIs which are targeted by channel will also be shown. (CPI details are at the end of the report)

First, the March Final. February is the normal Retail $ bottom for the year and sales turned up in March. Overall, the growth is slowing, and Auto sales actually dropped vs March 2021. Obviously, factoring in inflation paints a different picture of the situation. Here are the major retail groups. (All $ are Actual, Not Seasonally Adjusted)

The March Final is $4.2B more than the Advance Report. All but Auto were up. Restaurants: +$6.3B; Auto: -$5.5B; Gas Stations: +$0.4B; Relevant Retail: +$3.0B. All groups are up from the February bottom. Growth is slowing but all but Auto are up vs 2021 & 2019. When you look at the “real” numbers you get a different view. The Auto/Gas groups are really down in all measurements. Restaurants are strong due to a late recovery but also note that half of the inflation in this group came before 2022. Total and Relevant Retail are starting to see the impact of inflation as Real sales are down or flat vs 2021. Relevant Retail has the best performance since 2019 as 69% of their 31% growth is “Real”.

Now, let’s see how some Key Pet Relevant channels did in March.

Overall – All 11 were up vs February. Vs March 2021, 6 reported more $ but only A/O Misc. was really up. In YTD, 7 reported increases but only 4 were real. Vs 2019, Only Office/Gift was “really” down, the only decrease vs 2019.

  • Building Material Stores – Their Spring lift has started but it is not as strong as last year. Home Ctr/Hdwe is up vs 21 but Farm stores are down for the month & YTD. The Bldg/Matl group has an inflation rate over 10% which produced all negative real numbers. The pandemic caused consumers to focus on their homes which produced sales growth over 30% since 2019 in both channels. Importantly, 2/3rds of this lift was real. The chart shows that almost all of the lift came from 20>21, prior to the inflation wave. Avg Growth Rate: HomeCtr/Hdwe: 11.8%, Real: 8.0%; Farm: 10.3, Real: 6.6%
  • Food & Drug – Both channels are truly essential. Except for the food binge buying in the pandemic, they tend to have smaller fluctuations in $. However, they are radically different in inflation. The rate for Grocery products is 4 times higher than for Drugs/Med products. Sales for Drug Stores are down vs March 2021 but 84% of their growth since 2019 is real. The Real Sales for Supermarkets are down for the month and YTD. Also, only 31% of their growth since 2019 is real. Avg Growth Rate: Supermarkets: +6.1%, Real: +2.0%; Drug Stores: +4.2%, Real: +3.7%.
  • Sporting Goods Stores – They also benefited from the pandemic in that consumers turned to self-entertainment, especially sports & outdoor activities. Their Spring lift has started but it’s not as strong as last year. Their current inflation rate is almost 8% but it was also high in 20>21, +4.8%. However, 73% of their 48.9% lift since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth Rate was: +14.2%; Real: +10.7%.
  • Gen Mdse Stores – All channels had strong growth out of the February “bottom” but vs 2021 they don’t look good. Clubs/SupCtrs & $/Value stores are up slightly YTD vs 2021 but all other measurements vs 2021 – published or real, are negative. Disc. Dept Stores were struggling before COVID and only 9% of their 8% growth since 2019 is real. For the other channels, it averages 47%. Avg Growth Rate: SupCtr/Club: 5.7%, Real: 2.8%; $/Value Strs: +6.1%, Real: +3.2%; Disc. Dept.: +2.6%, Real: 0.2%
  • Office, Gift & Souvenir Stores – Their recovery didn’t start until the spring of 2021. Sales are up vs 2021, but real sales are flat or down, including a real 6.6% drop from 2019. Their true recovery is still a long way off. Avg Growth Rate: +0.2%, Real: -2.3%
  • Internet/Mail Order – The sales growth of the “hero” of the Pandemic is slowing. Real March sales vs 2021 are even down. However, 91% of their 81.9% growth since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth Rates is: +22.1%, Real: +20.4%. As expected, they are by far the growth leaders since 2019.
  • A/O Miscellaneous – This is a group of specialty retailers. Pet Stores are 22>24% of total $. In May 2020 they began their recovery which reached a record level by December 2021 as annual sales reached $100B for the first time. Sales continue exceptionally strong in 2022. In fact, they are the only channel on the chart with all positive measurements. Plus, 88% of their 61.6% growth since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth Rate is: +17.3%, Real: +15.6%. They are 2nd in growth since 2019 to the internet, which is somewhat surprising.

There is no doubt that high inflation is an important factor in Retail. In actual $, 8 channels are up in YTD sales over 2021 but only 5 are up for the month. When you factor in inflation, the number with any “real” growth falls to 4 YTD & 1 monthly. Inflation is starting to have a growing impact at the channel level. Now, the Advance numbers for April.

We have had memorable times since 2019. Some big negatives, including the 2 biggest monthly drops in history but a lot of positives in the Pandemic recovery. Total Retail reached $600B in a month for the first time and broke the $7 Trillion barrier in 2021.  Relevant Retail was also strong as annual sales reached $4T but in fact, all big groups set annual sales records in 2021. Now radical inflation has entered the game with the largest increase in 40 years. This can first reduce the amount of product sold but not $ spent. In April there was a  small overall increase from March, but the amount sold fell in all but Restaurants. If it continues, it can actually reduce consumer spending which is now happening in Auto.

Overall – Inflation Reality is starting to set in. The monthly increase vs the previous year is much smaller than it has been. The still recovering Restaurants and Gas Stations are up double digits but Auto $ are actually down. Although April set a new $ record for the month, the real monthly and YTD sales vs 2021 for all but restaurants are down or flat.

Total Retail – Every month in 2022 has set a monthly sales record. April $ are $684B. In a normal year, sales should stay at or near that level until dipping slightly in September. However, 2022 is not normal. Sales are flat vs March but are still up 8.7% vs April 2021 and 11.3% vs YTD 2021. When you factor in 13% inflation, both measurements are down for the 2nd consecutive month and only 46.4% of the 32.1% growth since 2019 is real. The Avg Growth Rate is: +9.7%, Real: +4.7%. Inflation is making an impact.

Restaurants – They were hit hard by the pandemic and didn’t truly start to recover until March 2021. Sales in the last 9 months of 2021 exceeded $70B and 2021 was the biggest year in history, $876B. January sales fell from December but have turned up since then setting new all-time monthly records in March and now April ($86.4B). They are the only big group that is positive in all measurements. Their inflation is high at 7.1% for April and 6.7% YTD but it is the lowest of any big group. Also, only 51.4% of their 29.0% growth since 2019 is real. This is due to the fact that inflation started earlier in this group, +5.9% in 2021. Here is their Avg Growth Rate: +8.9%, Real: +4.7%. Although they only account for 12.6% of Total Retail sales, their positive performance significantly helps to improve the overall retail numbers.

Auto (Motor Vehicle & Parts Dealers) – This group actively worked to overcome the stay-at-home attitude with great deals and a lot of advertising. They finished 2020 up 1% vs 2019 and hit a record $1.48T in 2021. In 2022 sales fell in January, turned up in Feb/Mar then fell again in April. They are unique in that their March and now April sales are below 2021. These are the only reported sales negatives by any group vs 2021. This is bad but their real sales numbers are much worse. Extraordinarily high inflation has pushed their real sales down -15+% in all measurements vs 2021, the worst performance of any group. Plus, only 16% of their 29.4% growth since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth Rate: +9.0%, Real: +1.5%. It is very likely that the drops in the reported $ales in March & April are tied to extreme inflation.

Gas Stations – Gas Stations were also hit hard. If you stay home, you drive less and obviously need less gas. This group started recovery in March 2021 and reached a record $584B for the year. Sales fell in January and February then turned up in March & April. They have the biggest increases vs 2021 and 2019 but it is not reality. Gasoline inflation is in all of the headlines and is by far the highest of any expenditure category. It is over 42% for 2022 vs 2021 and has even caused consumers to buy less than they did in 2019. Avg Growth Rate: +12.7%, Real: -2.4%. It’s a textbook example of the initial impact of inflation. Consumers are spending more but buying less, even less than they bought 3 years ago.

Relevant Retail – Less Auto, Gas and Restaurants – This the “core” of U.S. retail and accounts for 60+% of Total Retail Spending. There are a variety of channels in this group, so they took a number of different paths through the pandemic. However, their only down month was April 2020. They finished 2020, up +7.1% and 2021 got even better as they reached a record $4.50T. They have led the way in Total Retail’s recovery which became widespread across the channels. Sales fell in January and February, turned up in March, but were basically flat in April. All months in 2022 set new records but their YTD numbers are now below their 9.7% avg growth. Now, we’ll look at the impact of inflation. 68.2% of their 32.1% growth since 2019 is real. However real sales vs 2021 are down -1.6% for the month and flat YTD. This shows that inflation is only a 2022 problem. Their Avg Growth Rate: +9.7%, Real: +6.8%. The performance of this huge group is critically important. This is where Retail America shops. Real YTD sales are up only 0.2% but the amount of products that consumers bought in March & April was actually less than 2021. They just paid more. That’s not good.

The impact of inflation is truly beginning to Hit home. Auto and Gas Stations have no monthly or YTD real growth. Relevant Retail is really down for the 2nd straight month and basically flat YTD. Restaurants have the only positive real numbers. This adds up to real monthly and YTD drops for Total Retail. We are now in Phase II of inflation. Consumer spending increases but the amount bought declines. With 2 straight down months, the Auto Group may be moving into Phase III, when consumers actually cut back on spending. If inflation continues, the situation will only get worse.

  • Relevant Retail: Avg Growth Rate: +9.7%, Real: +6.8%. Only 5 channels were up vs March but 8 were up vs April 2021. This was enough to set an April $ales record but you see the negative impact of inflation in the “real” numbers.
  • All Dept Stores – This group was struggling before COVID, and the pandemic hit them hard. They began to recover in March 2020 and have continued to grow through April 2022. Their YTD numbers turned positive vs 2019 in April but are still down in real terms vs both 2019 & 2021. Avg Growth: +0.3%, Real: -2.3%.
  • Club/SuprCtr/$ – They fueled a big part of the overall recovery because they focus on value which has broad consumer appeal. Inflation is a big factor in their current numbers. While April Sales are up vs 2021 and YTD, their real numbers are down and only 46.5% of their 18.7% lift from 2019 is real. Avg Growth: +5.9%, Real: +2.8%.
  • Grocery – These stores are essential and depend on frequent purchases, so except for the binge buying in 2020, their changes are generally less pronounced. Inflation has hit Groceries hard. Monthly and YTD increases vs 2021 are strong but real sales are actually down and only 28.5% of the growth since 2019 is real. Avg Growth: +6.3%, Real = +1.9%.
  • Health/Drug Stores – At least the drug stores in this group are essential, but consumers visit far less frequently than Grocery stores. Most of their COVID ride has been rather calm. Their inflation rate is low but enough to push April sales down vs 2021. However, 89% of their small 13.5% growth from 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth is: +4.3%, Real: +3.8%.
  • Clothing and Accessories – They were nonessential, and clothes mattered less when you stayed home. That changed in March 2021 and resulted in explosive growth which has continued through 2022. $ are up only slightly from March but they’re positive in all measurements and 92% of growth from 2019 is real. Avg Growth: 4.8%, Real: 4.5%.
  • Home Furnishings – They were also less impacted by COVID. Sales dipped Mar>May in 2020. Then as consumers’ focus turned to their homes, furniture became a priority. Inflation on Furniture is extremely high so all of the real numbers for 2022 are negative and only 36% of their growth since 2019 is real. Avg Growth: +7.2%, Real: +2.7%.
  • Electronic & Appliances – Look at the graph. This channel has problems beyond the pandemic. Sales fell in Apr>May of 2020 and didn’t reach 2019 levels until March 2021. Their sales are down across the board vs 2021. April deflation did help turn their sales positive vs 2019 but only 11% is real. Avg Growth: +0.3%, Real: +0.03%.
  • Building Material, Farm & Garden & Hardware –They truly benefited from the consumers’ focus on home. This year’s spring lift looks to be lower than 2021 and when you factor in strong, double-digit inflation, the amount sold is significantly lower for both April and YTD. 63.6% of their 37.1% sales growth since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth is: +11.1%, Real: +7.3%.
  • Sporting Goods, Hobby and Book Stores – Consumers turned their attention to personal recreation and sales in Sporting Goods outlets took off. Book and Hobby Stores recovery was slower. YTD sales are up 0.4% but all other measurements are down vs 2021 and last month. Inflation in this group is lower than most groups and most of it comes from Sporting Goods. 78% of their 36.2% growth since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth is: +10.9%, Real: +8.7%.
  • All Miscellaneous Stores – Pet Stores have been a key part of the strong and growing recovery of this group. They finished 2020 +0.9% but sales took off in March 21. They set a new monthly $ales record in December and now in April. They are #1 in April & YTD lifts vs 2021 and their YTD growth since 2019 is 2nd only to NonStore. Plus, 84% of the 46.1% growth since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth is: +13.5%, Real: +11.5%.
  • NonStore Retailers – 90% of their volume comes from Internet/Mail Order/TV. The pandemic accelerated the online spending movement. They ended 2020 +21.4%. The growth continued in 2021. In December monthly sales exceeded $100B for the 1st time and they broke the $1 Trillion barrier for the year. Their Growth has slowed in 2022 but all measurements are positive. 90% of their 76% increase since 2019 is real. Their Avg Growth is: +20.7%, Real: +18.9%.

Note: Almost without exception, online sales by brick ‘n mortar retailers are recorded with their regular store sales.

Recap – The Retail recovery from the pandemic was largely driven by Relevant Retail. While the timing varied between channels, by the end of 2021 it had become very widespread. In late 2021 and now in 2022, a new challenge came to the forefront – extreme inflation. It isn’t the worst in history, but it is the biggest increase in prices in 40 years. Moreover, each month it is getting worse. On the surface, the impact is almost invisible. Sales in the total market and in the Relevant Retail group continue to grow but the growth has slowed markedly in April. In our summary of the big groups, we said that the market had entered phase II of strong inflation – spending grows but the amount purchased falls. The channels in the graph above illustrate this perfectly and show how widespread that it has become. 8 of 11 channels are up vs April 2021 and 10 are up YTD. However, when you factor in inflation, only 4 are up for April and 4 for YTD. Inflation is real and there are real and even worse consequences if it continues.

Finally, here are the details of the specific CPIs used to calculate the impact of inflation on retail groups and channels. This includes special aggregate CPIs created with the instruction and guidance of personnel from the US BLS. I also researched data from the last Economic Census to review the share of sales by product category for the various channels to help in selecting what expenditures to include in specific aggregates. Of course, none these specially created aggregates are 100% accurate but they are much closer than the overall CPI or available aggregates.

I’m sure that this list raises some questions. Here are some answers to some of the more obvious ones.

  1. Why is the group for Non-store different from the Internet?
    • Non-store is not all internet. It also includes Fuel Oil Dealers, the non-motor fuel Energy Commodity.
  2. Why is there no Food at home included in Non-store or Internet?
    • Online Grocery purchasing is becoming popular but almost all is from companies whose major business is brick ‘n mortar. These online sales are recorded under their primary channel.
  3. 6 Channels have the same CPI aggregate but represent a variety of business types.
    • They also have a wide range of product types. Rather than try to build aggregates of a multitude of small expenditure categories, it seemed better to eliminate the biggest, influential groups that they don’t sell. This method is not perfect, but it is certainly closer than any existing aggregate.
  4. Why are Grocery and Supermarkets only tied to the Grocery CPI?
    • According to the Economic Census, 76% of their sales comes from Grocery products. Grocery Products are the driver. The balance of their sales comes from a collection of a multitude of categories.
  5. What about Drug/Health Stores only being tied to Medical Commodities.
    • An answer similar to the one for Grocery/Supermarkets. However, in this case Medical Commodities account for over 80% of these stores’ total sales.
  6. Why do SuperCtrs/Clubs and $ Stores have the same CPI?
    • While the Big Stores sell much more fresh groceries, Groceries account for ¼ of $ Store sales. Both Channels generally offer most of the same product categories, but the mix of actual products is substantially different.

2022 Retail Sales Revisited – The Impact of Runaway Inflation

Inflation continues to make headlines as the prices for many products have risen over 2021 at the highest rate in 40 years. In recent years, the year over year inflation rate has hovered at about 2%. That’s why the March inflation number of 8.5% over 2021 has gotten so much attention.

It got my attention too. I decided to look a little closer at the expenditure categories and the methodology used by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics to compute the CPI (Inflation). I am also enamored by the Monthly Retail Sales report produced by the Census Bureau. This is the most accurate and timely measurement of the sales in the U.S. Retail market. However, we must note that the data only comes from outlets classified as retailers or restaurants & bars. Outlets whose primary business is Services, from Movie Theaters to Hair Salons, are not included. They have their own report. The outlets in the Monthly Retail report are “all about” products. A few of these channels may provide a small number of services but in the overall scheme of things the $ are inconsequential. Pet Stores are one of the retail outlets included in the report and they offer Pet Services. However, according to the most recent Economic Census, Pet Services only account for 6% of Total Pet Stores’ sales. The vast majority of true Retail outlets offer no services.

So how is the CPI market basket divided between Commodities (Products) and Services? The relative importance of expenditures is validated from data gathered in the annual Consumer Expenditure Survey, which is managed by the US BLS but executed by Census Bureau personnel. The base relative importance is updated every 2 years in December of odd numbered years. It is revised monthly, but the base is the key starting point.

In December 2021 The Relative Importance was

      Total CPI: 100;  Services: 60.9;  Commodities: 39.1

I was taken by surprise by these numbers. I had no idea that Services were 50% more important than Commodities in measuring inflation. Let’s look at the March 2022 year over year inflation numbers again:

     Total CPI: +8.54%;  Services: +5.12%;  Commodities: +14.17%

Obviously, for those involved in the retail trade, inflation is significantly worse than even what is being trumpeted in the headlines. Much has been said about overall inflation being the worst in 40 years. I downloaded the CPI data for Commodities. They have monthly numbers going back to 1956. The 14.17% YOY inflation rate in March was the highest for any month in the entire 66-year database. Another thing is very clear. Just using the overall CPI rate for retail is not accurate. I researched commodities and it turns out that the All Commodities aggregate accurately reflects Total Retail. At the end of the report, I have a condensed listing of CPI expenditure categories so that you can check my reasoning.

But now let’s take a look at 2022 Total Retail Sales, including the 4 Major Groups – Restaurants, Auto, Gas Stations and Relevant Retail. We show the sales change from 2021 for each month and YTD.

As we hear in all the news flashes. Despite inflation, sales are up. The gains by Gas Stations and Restaurants are spectacular but remember they were the hardest hit by the pandemic and recovery came late. You can also see that the overall increase slowed significantly in March. Gas Stations maintained their rate of increase but Auto actually had a slight decrease in Sales. The YTD numbers look good for all.

Now let’s see what inflation looks like so far this year.

Before we get into the numbers, let’s talk about the expenditure categories that I used. We talked about All Commodities being a match for Total Retail. There are also 2 existing indexes that match 2 of the big groups. Motor Vehicles & Parts is a perfect match for Auto and Gas Stations are all about Motor Fuel Sales. The other 2 aggregates were created by me with the detailed help, guidance and approval of a great person at the US BLS. For Restaurants, I aggregated Food & Alcohol away from home. For Relevant Retail I removed the categories linked to Restaurants, Auto and Gas Stations from the All Commodities Group.

The numbers are concerning. Inflation in the Services segment is high, but nothing compared to Auto & Gas. Relevant Retail is much better than All Commodities but about equal to the national numbers which are so scary. Now, let’s apply inflation to the sales numbers. This will give us a measurement of the amount of product sold, not just $.

I can’t recall ever seeing such a radical difference. It’s hard to believe that we are talking about the same products being sold in the same outlets over the same period of time. March 2022 was the worst monthly Commodity inflation in history…or at least in the last 66 years. The impact is very clear across the board but anything to do with cars has been down in the amount sold every month this year. Restaurants is the only group doing well but they’re still recovering. For Relevant Retail, the March price explosion turned real sales negative for March and dropped the YTD sales increase down to +1.2%. March Real sales for Total U.S. Retail were also down but YTD actually turned negative too. I don’t know what to say but whatever that can be done, needs to be done … right now!

There is one faint glimmer of hope. In my research, I found that the months with the 3 worst average YOY Commodity inflation rates are March, February & January, in that order. An immediate turn around won’t happen but hopefully, the worst is over.

Now, as promised here is a condensed list of CPI Expenditure Categories. The highlighting shows how I matched the commodity categories with the big groups. If you look very closely, you will see fuel oil as a category is included in both Total & Relevant Retail. That might raise some questions. However, if you look at the NAICS codes for Retail Businesses, you’ll see that the company that delivers propane to your farm is classified as a Non-Store Retailer, just like internet businesses.

Take a look. Let me know if you see any expenditure categories that if aggregated, would be a better CPI match for an important retail channel.

Retail Channel Monthly $ Update – February Final & March Advance

The pandemic started in March 2020. Since then, in the Retail sector, we have seen both record drops and record highs. The market has generally recovered but now we are being hit by extreme inflation. This can affect retail sales, so we’ll continue to track the retail market with data from two reports provided by the Census Bureau and factor in the CPI from US BLS.

The Census Bureau Reports are the Monthly and the Advance Retail Sales Reports. Both are derived from sales data gathered from retailers across the U.S. and are published monthly at the same time. The Advance Report has a smaller sample size so it can be published quickly – about 2 weeks after month end. The Monthly Final Report includes data from all respondents, so it takes longer to compile the data – about 6 weeks. Although the sample size for the Advance report is smaller, the results over the years have proven it to be statistically accurate with the final monthly reports. The biggest difference is that the full sample in the Final report allows us to “drill” a little deeper into the retail channels.

We begin with the Final Report for February and then move to the Advance Report for March.  We’ll compare 2022 to 2021, 2020 and 2019. We will show both the actual and the “real” change in $ as we factor inflation into the data.

Both reports include the following:

  • Total Retail, Restaurants, Auto, Gas Stations and Relevant Retail (removing Restaurants, Auto and Gas)
  • Individual Channel Data – This will be more detailed in the “Final” reports, and we fill focus on Pet Relevant Channels

The information will be presented in detailed charts to facilitate visual comparison between groups/channels of:

  • Current Month change – % & $ vs previous month
  • Current Month change – % & $ vs same month in 2021, 2020 and 2019.
  • Current YTD change – % & $ vs 2021, 2020 and 2019
  • Monthly and Year To Date $ will also be shown for each group/channel

First, the February Final. February is the normal Retail $ bottom for the year. The drop from January was minor and only happened in Relevant Retail but it drove Total Retail down. Sales vs 2021 remain strong with double digit increases in both monthly and YTD for all groups. Here are the major retail groups. (All $ are Actual, Not Seasonally Adjusted)

The February Final is $2.6B more than the Advance Report. All groups were up. Restaurants: +$0.6B; Auto: +$0.7B; Gas Stations: +$0.4B; Relevant Retail: +$0.9B. The normal drop in retail sales from January only happened in Relevant Retail and is less than in past years. The late recovery for Restaurants and Gas Stations is still surging. All groups have now been positive vs past years for 9 consecutive months. Now, let’s look at the “Real” February lift vs 2021, factoring in inflation. Here are the numbers:

  • Total Retail: National CPI: 7.9%, YTD: 7.7%; Sales Feb: +18.2% , Real: 10.3% (56.6%); YTD: 15.7%, Real: 8.0% (51.0%)
  • Restaurants: Food away from home CPI: 6.8%; YTD: 6.4%; Sales Feb: 34.3%, Real: 27.5% (80.2%); YTD: 29.1%, Real: 22.7% (78.0%)
  • Auto: New & Used Vehicles CPI: 23.5%, YTD: 23.1%; Sales Feb: 18.3%, Real: -5.2%; YTD: 15.7%, Real: -7.4% 
  • Gas Stations: Gasoline CPI: 38.0%, YTD: 40.0%; Sales Feb: 37.7%, Real: -0.3%; YTD: 35.4%, Real: -4.6%
  • Relevant Rtl: National CPI: 7.9%, YTD: 7.7%; Sales Feb: 13.1%, Real: 5.2% (46.8%); YTD: 11.2%, Real: 3.5% (31.3%)

Inflation is becoming a big factor in all but Restaurants.

Now, let’s see how some Key Pet Relevant channels did in February.

Overall – You see the normal February drop as 7 of 11 were down vs January. However, only one channel, Office, Gift & Souvenir Stores is down in any other measurement. Evidence of a strong recovery by Relevant Retail.

  • Building Material Stores – Their amazing lift has slowed in the winter months. Most of the increase from 2019 for both Home Ctr/Hdwe and Farm Stores came from the 20>21 lift. Home Ctr/Hdwe $ are starting to grow again but it’s still a little early in the year for the Farm Stores big lift. The February and YTD inflation rate for Tools, Hdwe, Outdoor Equip/Supp were both 10.7%. That makes the February numbers:
    • Home Ctr/Hdwe Feb: +16.0%, Real: +5.3%;YTD: +13.3%, Real: +2.6%
    • Farm Stores: Feb: +4.5%, Real:-6.2%; YTD: +2.2%, Real: -8.5% A big inflation impact!
  • Food & Drug – Both channels are truly essential. Except for the food binge buying in the pandemic, they tend to have smaller fluctuations in $. Both had big drops from January but have had regular growth since 2019. Supermarkets’ growth has been stronger due to more families choosing to cook at home. Inflation for Food at Home was Feb: 8.6%, YTD: 8.0%. Drug Inflation (Rx & OTC): Feb: 2.5%. YTD: 1.9%. Growth was:
    • Supermarkets Feb: +8.4%, Real: -0.2%; YTD: +8.1, Real: +0.1% Grocery inflation had a big impact.
    • Drug Stores Feb: +9.1%, Real: +6.6%; YTD: +9.0%, Real: +7.1% 
  • Sporting Goods Stores – Like Hardware/Farm stores, they benefited from the pandemic in that consumers turned to self-entertainment, especially sports & outdoor activities. Sales are up after a big drop in January, so they are positive in all measurements. The high demand has pushed the inflation rate for Sporting Goods to Feb: 7.1%. YTD: 7.6%. Sales growth was: Feb: +11.0%, Real: +3.9%; YTD: +5.4%, Real: -2.2%. Inflation kept real YTD sales negative.
  • Gen Mdse Stores – $ in all channels fell from January but all were up from 2021. SuperCtrs/Clubs have a higher % of groceries which results in more frequent visits and generally higher growth numbers. Disc. Dept Stores were struggling before COVID but had a strong 2021. Using the overall CPI of 7.9%, YTD: 7.7%, sales growth was:
    • SupCtr/Club Feb: 11.3%, Real: +3.4%; YTD: +7.8%, Real: 0.1%
    • $/Value Strs Feb: +7.7%, Real: -0.2%; YTD: +3.5%, Real: -4.2% $ Stores focus on price, so it’s no surprise that inflation hit them hard.
    • Disc. Dept. Strs Feb: +10.0%, Real: 2.1%; YTD: 5.7%, Real: -2.0%. 
  • Office, Gift & Souvenir Stores – Their recovery didn’t start until the spring of 2021, but they are still not there yet. Sales are up vs 2021, but every other measurement is negative. The available inflation number most appropriate for them is “limited” as it cuts out food, energy, shelter and used vehicles. Feb: 5.5%.YTD: 5.3%. Sales are Feb: +12.0%, Real: +6.5%; YTD: +7.2%, Real: +1.9%.
  • Internet/Mail Order – The sales growth of the “hero” of the Pandemic is slowing. With inflation at 7.9%, YTD: 7.6%. they were Feb: 14.2%, Real: 6.3%; YTD: +14.2%, Real: +6.6%. Their avg growth rate is 17.5%. Inflation widens the gap.
  • A/O Miscellaneous – This is a group of specialty retailers. Pet Stores are 22>24% of total $. In May 2020 they began their recovery which reached a record level by December 2021 as annual sales reached $100B for the first time. Using the 5.5%, YTD: 5.3% “limited” inflation, Sales were: Feb: +30.3%, Real: +24.8%; YTD: +26.5%, Real: +21.2%. By any measure and even factoring in high inflation, they are the percentage leader in 2022 growth. They are even beating the internet, which is to say the least, surprising.

There is no doubt that high inflation is an important factor in Retail. In actual $, all 11 channels increased monthly & YTD sales over 2021. However, when you factor in inflation, the number with any “real” growth falls to 8 monthly and 7 YTD. Until things change, inflation will be a big part of retail sales discussions. Now, the Advance numbers for March.

We have had memorable times since 2019. Some big negatives, including the 2 biggest monthly drops in history but a lot of positives in the Pandemic recovery. Total Retail reached $600B in a month for the first time and broke the $7 Trillion barrier in 2021.  Relevant Retail was also strong as annual sales reached $4T but in fact, all big groups set annual sales records in 2021. Now in late 2021 and continuing into 2022 radical inflation has entered the game. It’s not the biggest increase ever but it is the largest in 40 years. As we have learned in the past, this can first reduce the amount of product sold but not $ spent. However, if it continues, it can actually reduce consumer spending. This could reverse many gains.

Overall – The big change is that the monthly increase vs the previous year is much smaller than it has been. The still recovering Restaurants and Gas Stations are up double digits but Auto $ are actually down. Also, March 2020 was the start of the pandemic. March 2022 set a new record for the month. We have come a long way since those tough days.

Total Retail – Every month in 2022 has set a monthly sales record. March $ are $677B. History says that they should stay at or near that level until dipping slightly in September. March sales are up 7.0% over 2021. That’s significantly below the 9.6% average increase since 2019. The national inflation rate for March 2022 vs 2021 was 8.5%, even higher than February. YTD prices are up 8.0%. Let’s take a closer look at the sales numbers. March: +7.0%, Real: -1.5%; YTD: +12.4%, Real: +4.0% (32.3%).The amount sold in March was actually down from 2021 and only about 1/3 of YTD sales gain was real.

Restaurants – They were hit hard by the pandemic and didn’t truly start to recover until March 2021 with a $15B lift over February and an $18B increase over 2020. Sales in 7 of the last 8 months of 2021 exceeded $70B and 2021 was the biggest year in history, $821B. January sales fell from December but have turned up since then setting a new all-time monthly record of $78.3B in March. March sales are up an average of 5.9% since 2019 and the YTD average is 5.4%. The channel is becoming more normal. Inflation for Food away from home in March was 6.9%. YTD, it is 6.7%. Here is the growth. March: +20.2%, Real: +13.3% (65.8%); YTD: +25.7%, Real: +19.0% (73.9%) This is by far the best real performance of any group and significantly improves the Total Retail numbers.

Auto (Motor Vehicle & Parts Dealers) – This group actively worked to overcome the stay-at-home attitude with great deals and a lot of advertising. They finished 2020 up 1% vs 2019 and hit a record $1.54T in 2021. In January, sales fell but then turned up in February & March. However, March $ are down vs 2021, the only negative on the chart and a huge change from their average March growth rate of 9.7% since 2019. Their YTD growth rate since 2019 is 10.2%, due to double digit increases in January & February. The inflation rates for new & used vehicles, which account for the vast majority of the sales in this group, were Mar: +21.7%, YTD: +22.8%. Sales were: Mar: -1.0%, Real: -22.7%; YTD: +8.8%, Real: -14.0%. It is very likely that the drop in the actual $ in March is tied to extreme inflation.

Gas Stations – Gas Stations were also hit hard. If you stay home, you drive less and obviously need less gas. This group started recovery in March 2021 and reached a record $588B for the year. Sales fell in January and February then turned up in March. However, they have the biggest monthly and YTD increases vs 2021. Gasoline inflation is in all the headlines so let’s get right to the numbers. Gasoline inflation vs 2021 for March is 48.0% and YTD is 42.3% which generates the following. March: +37.9%, Real: -10.1%; YTD: +36.4%, Real: -5.9%. It’s a textbook example of the initial impact of inflation. Consumers are spending more but buying less, especially with the huge price lift in March.

Relevant Retail – Less Auto, Gas and Restaurants – This the “core” of U.S. retail and accounts for 60+% of Total Retail Spending. There are a variety of channels in this group, so they took a number of different paths through the pandemic. However, their only down month was April 2020. They finished 2020, up +7.1% and 2021 got even better as they reached a record $4.47T. They have led the way in Total Retail’s recovery which became widespread across the channels. In January and February sales fell then turned up in March. All 3 months set new records but the March lift from 2021 is less than half of their 9.4% average. Their YTD numbers are better, only slightly below their 9.0% average. Now, we’ll look at the impact of inflation. We’ll use the overall inflation rates: March: 8.5%, YTD: 8.0%. Sales growth was: March: +4.0%, Real: -4.5%; YTD: +8.5%, Real: +0.5% (5.9%). With the huge size of this group, these results are critically important. This is where Retail America shops. YTD sales are truly up only a miniscule 0.5% but the amount of products that consumers bought in March was actually 4.5% less than 2021. They just paid more. That’s not good.

The impact of inflation is truly beginning to Hit home. Auto and Gas Stations have no monthly or YTD real growth. Relevant Retail is really down for the month and basically flat YTD. Restaurants have the only positive real numbers. This adds up to a real monthly drop for Total Retail and a minor YTD increase. We are now in Phase II of inflation. Consumer spending increases but the amount bought declines. The Auto Group may actually be moving into Phase III, when consumers actually cut back on spending. If inflation continues, the situation will only get worse.

Now the March numbers for some key retail channels.

  • Relevant Retail: Mar: +4.0%, Real: -4.5%; YTD: +8.5%, Real: +0.5%. All channels were up vs the February “bottom” but 2 were down vs March 2021. It was a record month but you see the negative impact of inflation in the “real” numbers.
  • All Dept Stores – This group was struggling before COVID, and the pandemic hit them hard. They began to recover in March 2020, and they have continued to grow through March 2022. The most appropriate inflation rate to use for them is less Food, Energy, Shelter & used vehicles which are Mar: 5.8%, YTD: 5.5%. Their numbers are Mar: +3.3%, Real: -2.5%; YTD: +11.2%, Real: +5.7%. Their growth slowed in March and in “real” terms they actually lost ground due to inflation.
  • Club/SuprCtr/$ – They fueled a big part of the overall recovery because they focus on value which has broad consumer appeal. Inflation is a big factor in their current numbers as their lift has turned around, at least temporarily. Using the national CPI, Mar: +4.0%, Real: -4.5%, YTD: +6.0%, Real: -2.0%
  • Grocery – These stores are essential and depend on frequent purchases, so except for the binge buying in 2020, their changes are generally less pronounced. However, inflation has also hit Groceries, 10.0% in March and 8.7% YTD, the biggest increase since 1981 and produced negative real numbers Mar: +9.0%, Real = -1.0%; YTD: 8.5%, Real: -0.2%
  • Health/Drug Stores – At least the drug stores in this group are essential, but consumers visit far less frequently than Grocery stores. Most of their COVID ride has been rather calm. Using the CPI for Rx & OTC drugs: Mar: 2.7%, YTD: 2.2% their sales are: Mar: +0.9%, Real: -1.8%; YTD: +6.2%, Real: +4.0% Even with lower inflation, their real sales were down.
  • Clothing and Accessories – They were generally deemed nonessential and what you were wearing didn’t matter when you stayed home. That changed in March 2021 and consumers’ pent-up needs caused explosive growth which has continued through 2022. Apparel inflation is Mar: 6.8%, YTD: 6.2%. Their $ are Mar: 7.5%, Real: 0.7%; YTD: 16.7%, Real: 10.5%
  • Home Furnishings – They were also less impacted by COVID. Sales dipped Mar>May in 2020. Then as consumers’ focus turned to their homes, furniture became a priority. Inflation on Furniture is extremely high, 15.8% for March and 16.6% YTD. That causes a big turnaround in their numbers. Mar: +4.2%, Real: -11.6%; YTD: +5.5%, Real: -11.1%
  • Electronic & Appliances – Look at the graph. This channel has problems beyond the pandemic. Sales fell in Apr>May of 2020 and didn’t reach 2019 levels until March 2021. Their sales are down across the board vs 2021. We’ll use the “limited” CPI: Mar: 5.8%, YTD: 5.5%. Sales: Mar: -9.6%, Real: -15.4%; YTD: -4.0%, Real: -9.5%.
  • Building Material, Farm & Garden & Hardware –They truly benefited from the consumers’ focus on home. Their spring lift became almost year-round. A big lift from February but little vs 2021. The CPI for Hdwe & Outdoor is Mar: 10.8% YTD: 10.7%. Here are their sales: Mar: +1.8%, Real: -9.0%; YTD: +7.6%, Real: -3.1%. An Inflation generated drop.
  • Sporting Goods, Hobby and Book Stores – Consumers turned their attention to personal recreation and sales in Sporting Goods outlets took off. Book and Hobby Stores recovery was slower. A big increase from February but March Sales are down vs 2021. The product groups in these outlets have radically different CPIs so using the “limited” inflation version seems to be the best choice. Mar: -5.7%, Real: -11.5%; YTD: 1.6%, Real: -3.9%. Inflation again hits hard.
  • All Miscellaneous Stores – Pet Stores have been a key part of the strong and still growing recovery of this group. They finished 2020 +0.9% but sales took off in March 21, setting a new monthly record in December. The growth continues in 2022 as they are now #1 in March & YTD lifts. Since 2019, their March growth is #1 and YTD is 2nd to NonStore. The limited CPI seems right for them and generates strong numbers. Mar: +14.3%, Real: +8.5%; YTD: +18.9%, Real: +13.4%
  • NonStore Retailers – 90% of their volume comes from Internet/Mail Order/TV. The pandemic accelerated the online spending movement. They ended 2020 +21.4%. The growth continued in 2021 and in December monthly sales exceeded $100B for the 1st time and they broke the $1 Trillion barrier. Growth slowed markedly in March 2022. Using the national CPI, their sales are Mar: +2.6%, Real: -5.9%; YTD: +10.4%, Real: +2.4% Even the internet is not safe from inflation.

Note: Almost without exception, online sales by brick ‘n mortar retailers are recorded with their regular store sales.

Recap – The Retail recovery from the pandemic was largely driven by Relevant Retail. While the timing varied between channels, by the end of 2021 it had become very widespread. In late 2021 and now in 2022, a new challenge came to the forefront – extreme inflation. It isn’t the worst in history, but it is the biggest increase in prices in 40 years. Moreover, each month it is getting worse. On the surface, the impact is almost invisible. Sales in the total market and in the Relevant Retail group continue to grow. Admittedly, the growth rate has slowed in March, but sales are still up. In our summary of the big groups, we said that the market had entered phase II of strong inflation – spending grows but the amount purchased falls. The channels in the graph above illustrate this perfectly and show how widespread that it has become. 9 of 11 channels are up vs March 2021 and 10 are up YTD. However, when you factor in inflation, only 2 are up for March and 5 for YTD. Inflation is real and there are real and even worse consequences if it continues.

Retail Channel Monthly $ Update – January Final & February Advance

The Retail recovery has been generally successful, but now, our attention has turned to an unexpected factor also attributed to the pandemic – extreme inflation. Since this can affect retail sales, we will continue to track the retail market with data from two reports provided by the Census Bureau and factor in the CPI from US BLS.

The Census Bureau Reports are the Monthly and the Advance Retail Sales Reports. Both are derived from sales data gathered from retailers across the U.S. and are published monthly at the same time. The Advance Report has a smaller sample size so it can be published quickly – about 2 weeks after month end. The Monthly Final Report includes data from all respondents, so it takes longer to compile the data – about 6 weeks. Although the sample size for the Advance report is smaller, the results over the years have proven it to be statistically accurate with the final monthly reports. The biggest difference is that the full sample in the Final report allows us to “drill” a little deeper into the retail channels.

We begin with the Final Retail Report for January and then move to the Advance Report for February.  We will now compare 2022 to 2021, 2020 and 2019. In both reports we will show both the actual and the “real” change in $ as we factor inflation into the data.

Both reports include the following:

  • Total Retail, Restaurants, Auto, Gas Stations and Relevant Retail (removing Restaurants, Auto and Gas)
  • Individual Channel Data – This will be more detailed in the “Final” reports, and we fill focus on Pet Relevant Channels

The information will be presented in detailed charts to facilitate visual comparison between groups/channels of:

  • Current Month change – % & $ vs previous month
  • Current Month change – % & $ vs same month in 2021, 2020 and 2019.
  • Current YTD change – % & $ vs 2021, 2020 and 2019 (In the Jan. Final, YTD is unnecessary, so we add the Avg chge)
  • Monthly and Year To Date $ will also be shown for each group/channel

First, the January Final. Retail hit bottom in April 2020 but began recovery. The recovery strengthened in 2021 and became widespread. Total Retail $ broke the $700B barrier for the 1st time in December. As usual, $ dropped from December but 2022 started strong. Here are the major retail groups. (All $ are Actual, Not Seasonally Adjusted)

The January Final is $5.5B more than the Advance Report. Only 1 group was down. Specifically: Restaurants: -$0.3B; Auto: +$1.7B; Gas Stations: +$0.2B; Relevant Retail: +$3.9B. The normal big drop in retail sales from December is readily apparent but it is less than in past years. The recovery for Restaurants and Gas Stations is late and still surging. All groups have now been positive vs past years for 8 consecutive months. Now, let’s look at the “Real” January lift, factoring in inflation. The Jan 22 to Jan 21 inflation was 7.5% overall. That would put the “real” increase for Total Retail at +5.9% (44% of 13.4%); Restaurants – Inflation = 6.4%. Real Increase: 18.0% (73.8%); Auto – New & Used Vehicle Inflation = 23.1%. It’s likely that sales were down as much as -10%; Gas Stations – Gasoline Inflation = 40.0%. Real Change: -6.7%. Relevant Retail – Inflation = 7.5%. Real Increase: 1.9% (20.2%). Inflation is a major problem.

Now, let’s see how some Key Pet Relevant channels did in January.

Overall – You see the importance of the holiday buying surge to these channels as all were down vs December and only the most essential channels – Supermarkets and Drug Stores had less than double digit decreases.

  • Building Material Stores – Their amazing lift has slowed in the winter months, especially in Farm Stores, which had the only decrease vs January 2021. Most of the increase from 2019 for both Home Ctr/Hdwe and Farm Stores came from the 20>21 lift. Home Ctr/Hdwe $ continued to grow but Farm Stores just held their ground. The January YOY inflation for Tools, Hdwe, Outdoor Equip/Supp was 10.7% That makes the January “real” numbers:

Home Ctr/Hdwe: +10.9%, Real: +0.2%; Farm Stores: -0.05%, Real: -10.8%

  • Food & Drug – Both of these channels are truly essential. Except for the food binge buying in the early part of the pandemic, they tend to have smaller fluctuations in $. Supermarkets have had stronger growth since 2019. Much of that is due to more families choosing to cook at home. Here are the real January numbers which may be a surprise. The inflation rate for Food at Home in January was 7.4%. Prices for Drugs (Rx & OTC) were up only 1.3%. The YOY growth was

Supermarkets: +7.8%, Real: +0.4%; Drug Stores: +9.1%, Real: +7.8%

  • Sporting Goods Stores – Like Hardware/Farm stores, they benefited from the pandemic in that consumers turned to self-entertainment, especially sports & outdoor activities. They had a huge drop from December but managed to stay at the extraordinarily high 2021 level. The high demand has pushed the inflation rate for Sporting Goods to 8.2%. There was literally no $ growth from January 2021 to 2022. Considering inflation, that equates to an -8.2% drop in sales.
  • General Merchandise Stores – $ in all channels fell substantially from December but were up slightly from January 2021. SuperCtrs/Clubs have a higher percentage of groceries which makes for more frequent visits and generally higher numbers, including growth rate. Discount Dept Stores were struggling before COVID but had a strong 2021. Using the overall inflation rate of 7.5%, here are the January numbers

SupCtr/Club: +4.5%, Real: -3.0%; $/Value Strs: +2.5%, Real: -5.0%; Disc. Dept. Strs: +1.8%, Real: -5.7%

  • Office, Gift & Souvenir Stores – These non-essential stores started to recover in the spring of 2021, but they are still not there yet. Sales are up vs January 2021, but every other measurement is negative, including vs 2019. The available inflation number most appropriate for them is “limited” as it cuts out food, energy, shelter and used vehicles – +5.1%. Their sales were +3.1% so real sales were actually down -2.0%.
  • Internet/Mail Order – The sales growth of the undisputed “hero” of the Pandemic is slowing as they were up 13.6% from 2021, slightly slower than their average growth rate of 17.3%. With inflation at 7.5%, their real growth is 6.1%.
  • A/O Miscellaneous – This is a group of specialty retailers. Pet Stores are 22>24% of total $. In May 2020 they began their recovery which reached a record level by December 2021 as annual sales reached $100B for the first time. January $ are up 22.4% from 2021. Using the 5.1% “limited” inflation rate, their real sales are +17.3%. However, by any measure, they are the percentage leader in January growth. Take note: In January 2022, this group, of which Pet Stores are an important and growing segment, beat the growth rate of Internet/Mail Order over both last year and since 2019.

Inflation is an important factor. In actual $, 9 of 11 channels increased sales over January 2021. However, when you factor in inflation, including the rate most in tune with each Channel’s offerings, the number with any “real” growth falls to 5. Until things change, inflation will be a big part of retail sales discussions. Now, the Advance numbers for February.

We have had 2 straight memorable years. 2020 saw the 2 biggest monthly drops in history but Total Retail finished by reaching $600B for the first time in December. In 2021, the recovery strengthened with all big groups positive in all measurements vs 2019 & 2020 for the final 7 months. Total Retail reached $713B in December and broke the $7T barrier for the year. Relevant Retail was also strong as annual sales reached $4T but in fact, all big groups set annual sales records in 2021. As usual, sales fell in January from their December peak and driven down by Relevant Retail, Total Retail $ continued to decline in February. In virtually every year, February is the low point for retail sales.

Overall – The only negative numbers are vs January and not for all groups. We should also note that the February sales patterns since 2019 look normal for Total Retail, Relevant Retail and Auto with annual increases. Remember, February 2020 was pre-pandemic and by February 2021, only Restaurants and Gas Stations had not begun a strong recovery.

Total Retail – January Sales set a record beating the 2021 record by 13.4%. February was even better, breaking the $500M barrier for the 1st time and beating the 2021 record by 17.7%. YTD numbers are up 15.5%, with an annual growth rate since 2019 of 9.0%. However, 59% of the growth since 2019 occurred from 2021 to 2022 which brings inflation into the conversation. The inflation rate for February 2022 vs 2021 was 7.9%, even higher than January. YTD prices are up 7.7%. Here are the numbers. February: +17.7%, Real: +9.8% (55.4%); YTD: +15.5%, Real: +7.8% (50.3%). Inflation is a big factor, but real growth is still strong.

Restaurants – They were hit hard by the pandemic and didn’t truly start to recover until March 2021. However, sales in 7 of the last 8 months of 2021 exceeded $70B and 2021 was the biggest year in history, $821B. January sales fell from December but turned up in February. This happens about half of the time as these 2 months compete for the low point in Restaurant sales. Their February sales pattern clearly reflects their late recovery, especially from a $12B drop in 2021. YTD sales are up an average of 5.1% since 2019, becoming more normal. Inflation for Food away from home in February was 6.8%. YTD, it is 6.6%. Here is real growth. February: +33.0%, Real: +26.2% (79.4%); YTD: +28.6%, Real: +22.0% (76.9%) This is by far the best performance of any group and significantly improves the Total Retail numbers.

Auto (Motor Vehicle & Parts Dealers) – This group actively worked to overcome the stay-at-home attitude with great deals and a lot of advertising. They finished 2020 up 1% vs 2019 and hit a record $1.54T in 2021. In January, sales fell but then turned up in February, the usual pattern in a normal year. Their YTD growth rate since 2019 is 10.4%, the highest of any big group. But what about inflation? The overall inflation rates of Feb: 7.9% and YTD: 7.7% would produce real increases of Feb: +9.7%; YTD: +7.7%. However, the inflation rates for new & used vehicles, which account for most of the sales in this group, were Feb: +23.5%, YTD: +23.3%. This would create a real drop in sales of Feb: -5.9%, YTD: -8.0%. It seems likely that there is an ongoing drop in the actual amount sold in this group which is tied to extreme inflation.

Gas Stations – Gas Stations were also hit hard. If you stay home, you drive less and obviously need less gas. This group started recovery in March 2021 and reached a record $588B for the year. January sales fell -5.1% from December and February sales also dropped slightly. However, they were up 36.6% vs 2021. Gasoline inflation is in all the headlines so let’s get right to the numbers. Gasoline inflation vs 2021 for February is 38% and YTD is 39% which generates the following. February: +36.6%, Real: -1.4%; YTD: +34.9%, Real: -4.1%. While the gap is narrowing, extraordinarily high prices are hindering growth. People are ready to get out and about, but high gas prices are causing them to reconsider.

Relevant Retail – Less Auto, Gas and Restaurants – This the “core” of U.S. retail and accounts for 60+% of Total Retail Spending. There are a variety of channels in this group so they took a number of different paths through the pandemic. However, their only down month was April 2020. They finished 2020, up +7.1% and 2021 got even better as they reached a record $4.47T. They have led the way in Total Retail’s recovery which became widespread across the channels. In January and February sales fell from the previous month but this is the normal pattern. Sales hit bottom in February then begin a Spring lift. Both January & February set new monthly $ records and the YTD annual growth rate is 9.0% with a relatively normal growth pattern. Although over 40% of the increase since 2019 occurred this year. That says we should look at the impact of inflation. We’ll use the overall inflation rates: February: 7.9%, YTD: 7.7%. February: +12.8%, Real: +4.9% (38.3%); YTD: +11.1%, Real: +3.1% (27.9%). Although this is significantly better than January when real growth was only 0.7%, it is still concerning when only 1/3 of the growth in this big group is real.

Gas Stations are unquestionably the inflation loser but now Relative Retail and Auto, which had the strongest recovery from COVID are starting to feel the effect of strong inflation. Next, we’ll drill down to look at what is happening in the individual retail channels. Remember, the channels in the chart are less defined than in the Final Monthly reports and we will look across the whole market, not just pet relevant outlets.

  • Relevant Retail: Feb: +12.8%, Real: +4.9%; YTD: +11.1%, Real: +3.4%. 9 of 11 channels were down vs January but all were up vs February 2021. In fact, 10 of 11 were up in all measurements vs 2019>2021. It was a record month.
  • All Dept Stores – This group was struggling before COVID, and the pandemic hit them hard. They began to recover in March 2020, and they have continued to grow through February. The most appropriate inflation rate to use for them is less Food, Energy, Shelter & used vehicles which are Feb: 5.3%, YTD: 5.1%. That puts their numbers at Feb: +22.4%, Real: +17.1%; YTD: +16.3%, Real: +11.2%. Their recovery is getting stronger by any measure.
  • Club/SuprCtr/$ – They fueled a big part of the overall recovery because they focus on value which has broad consumer appeal. Inflation is a big factor in their current numbers as their lift has slowed at least temporarily. Using the national CPI, Feb: +10.9%, Real = +3.0%, YTD: +7.4%, Real: -0.3%
  • Grocery – These stores are the most essential and depend on frequent purchases so except for the binge buying in 2020, their changes are generally less pronounced. However, inflation has also hit Groceries, 8.6% in February and 8.0% YTD. This is the biggest increase since 1981. February: +8.4%, Real = -0.2%; YTD: 8.0%, Real: 0.0% – No Change
  • Health/Drug Stores – At least the drug stores in this group are essential, but consumers visit far less frequently than Grocery stores. Their February sales actually dropped in 20>21 but most of their COVID ride has been rather calm. Using the CPI for Rx & OTC drugs (Feb: 2.5%, YTD: 1.9%) their numbers are: Feb: +8.7%, Real: +6.2%; YTD: +8.8%, Real: +6.9%
  • Clothing and Accessories – They were also nonessential and what you were wearing didn’t matter when you stayed home. That changed in March 2021 and consumers’ pent-up needs caused explosive growth which has continued through February. Apparel inflation is Feb: 6.6%, YTD: 6.0%. Their $ are Feb: +31.0%, Real: +24.4%; YTD: +25.8%, Real: +19.8%
  • Home Furnishings – They were also less impacted by COVID. Sales dipped Mar>May in 2020. Then as consumers’ focus turned to their homes, furniture became a priority. Inflation on Furniture is extremely high, 17.1% for both February and YTD. That causes a big turnaround in their numbers. Feb: +7.4%, Real: -9.7%; YTD: +4.4%, Real: -12.7%
  • Electronic & Appliances – Look at the graph. This channel has problems beyond the pandemic. Sales fell in Apr>May of 2020 and didn’t reach 2019 levels until March 2021. Right now, their sales are stagnated. We’ll wait and see if they have a yearend lift. We’ll use the “limited” CPI: Feb: 5.3%, YTD: 5.1%. Feb: +2.6%, Real: -2.7%; YTD: -0.4%, Real: -5.5%.
  • Building Material, Farm & Garden & Hardware –They truly benefitted from the consumers’ focus on home. Their spring lift has become almost year-round and it’s ready to start again. The CPI for Hdwe & Outdoor is Feb: 10.6% YTD: 10.7%. Here are their February numbers. Feb: +14.9%, Real: +4.3%; YTD: +12.0%, Real: +1.3%.
  • Sporting Goods, Hobby and Book Stores – Consumers turned their attention to personal recreation and sales in Sporting Goods outlets took off. Book and Hobby Stores recovery was slower. It appears that the YTD lift has slowed in 2022. The product groups in these outlets have radically different CPIs so using the “limited” inflation version seems to be the best choice. Feb: 11.6%, Real: 5.3%; YTD: 5.7%, Real: 0.6%.
  • All Miscellaneous Stores – Pet Stores have been a key part of the strong and still growing recovery of this group. They finished 2020 +0.9% but sales took off in March 21, setting a new monthly record in December. The growth continues in 2022 as they are 2nd to Clothing in February & YTD lift. Since 2019 their growth is 2nd to NonStore. The “limited” CPI also seems right for this group and generates these great numbers. Feb: +24.6%, Real: +19.3%; YTD: +21.2%, Real: +16.1%
  • NonStore Retailers – 90% of the volume of this group comes from Internet/Mail Order/TV. The pandemic accelerated the movement to online retail. They ended 2020 +21.4%. The growth continued in 2021 and in December monthly sales exceeded $100B for the 1st time and they broke the $1 Trillion barrier in annual sales. Growth is a little slower in 2022 but still strong. Using the national CPI, their latest numbers are Feb: +13.9%, Real: +6.0%; YTD: +14.3%, Real: +6.7%

Note: Almost without exception, online sales by brick ‘n mortar retailers are recorded with their regular store sales.

Recap – 2020 was quite a year, with the trauma of April & May followed by the triumph of breaking $600B for the first time in December. 2021 was even more memorable as it produced record sales for all major groups and Total Retail exceeded $7T for the 1st time. Relevant Retail was the major driver in this recovery. Since May of 2020 their sales have exceeded past years in all measurements, and they reached $4.47T in 2021. The recovery was widespread as all but 2 groups on our Advance Chart set sales records in 2021. 2022 began pretty normally for Relevant Retail as sales fell from December but exceeded 2021. The big change was that inflation that began in late 2021 hit levels not seen in decades and came to the forefront of every conversation. As we saw in our analysis, it affected virtually every channel and even turned 4 channels from positive to negative. This will not go away quickly and if it continues or worsens it will ultimately result in consumers buying less, ending retail growth by any measurement. We will continue to monitor the situation.

 

 

Retail Channel Monthly $ Update – December Final & January Advance

The Retail recovery has been generally successful, but a long and complex journey. Now, we are seeing a new and largely unexpected factor also attributed to COVID – extreme inflation. Since this can affect retail sales, we will continue to track the retail market with data from two reports provided by the Census Bureau and add in the CPI from US BLS.

The Census Bureau Reports are the Monthly and the Advance Retail Sales Reports. Both are derived from sales data gathered from retailers across the U.S. and are published monthly at the same time. The Advance Report has a smaller sample size so it can be published quickly – about 2 weeks after month end. The Monthly Final Report includes data from all respondents, so it takes longer to compile the data – about 6 weeks. Although the sample size for the Advance report is smaller, the results over the years have proven it to be statistically accurate with the final monthly reports. The biggest difference is that the full sample in the Final report allows us to “drill” a little deeper into the retail channels.

We begin with the Final Retail Report for December and then move to the Advance Report for January, giving us a final look at 2021 and a 1st look at 2022. In the December Final we will compare 2021 to both 2020 and 2019. In the January Advance we will compare 2022 to the 3 prior years and add in the Avg Annual Change. Note: January Monthly $ = YTD.

Both reports include the following:

  • Total Retail, Restaurants, Auto, Gas Stations and Relevant Retail (removing Restaurants, Auto and Gas)
  • Individual Channel Data – This will be more detailed in the “Final” reports, and we fill focus on Pet Relevant Channels

The information will be presented in detailed charts to facilitate visual comparison between groups/channels of:

  • Current Month change – % & $ vs previous month
  • Current Month change – % & $ vs same month in 2020 and 2019 (In the Advance, we compare 2022 to 21,20 & 19)
  • Current YTD change – % & $ vs 2020 and 2019 (In the Advance, YTD is unnecessary, so we add the Avg chge)
  • Monthly and Year To Date $ will also be shown for each group/channel

First, the December Final. Retail hit bottom in April 2020 but began recovery, hitting record $ in December. $ fell in Jan>Feb but set a new $ records in March & May. Sales slowed through September but turned up in October, setting new records in November & December. Here are the major retail groups. (All $ are Actual, Not Seasonally Adjusted)

The final total is $2.3B less than the Advance report projected a month ago. 2 groups were up and 2 were down. The specifics were: Restaurants: +$0.7B; Gas Stations: +$0.5B; Auto: -$1.4B; Relevant Retail: -$2.0B. Sales vs November were up for all groups but Gas Stations. Total Retail $ales broke $600B for the 1st time in December 2020. December 2021 $ales broke the $700B barrier. Restaurants & Gas Stations had a truly strong December vs 2020 as their recovery strengthens. Auto had the strongest recovery with 23.5% growth in 2021 producing an annual YTD growth rate since 2019 of +11.3%. A slight $ dip in December is normal for Gas Stations but all groups contributed to setting a new $ record. Importantly, for the 7th consecutive month, all groups were positive in all measurements vs 2020 or 2019.

Now, let’s see how some Key Pet Relevant channels did in December.

  • Overall – 1 was down vs last month. A December dip in Home Ctr/Hrdwre is not unusual. Office/Gift/Souvenir $ had a strong month but are still down at yr-end vs 2019. December set another new $ record for Relevant Retail.
  • Building Material Stores – Their amazing lift has slowed as we move into winter. The surge came from pandemic spending patterns developed in 2020. Consumers began focusing on their homes. Their Spring lift slowed in 2021 but Building and Farm stores are still going strong. Sporting Goods stores have a similar pattern. Sales took off in May 2020, set a record in December and continued strong in 2021. They slowed in the Spring/Summer but set a record in November, then exploded in December. Yr-end they are +47.3% vs 2019, a Growth Rate of 21.4%!
  • Food & Drug – Supermarkets were +$77.7B in 2020. $ are up vs November and +9.6% vs December 2020. 2021 $ were +3.3% vs the 2020 binge and +16.0% vs 2019. Drug Stores were +$17B (+5.7%) for 2020. They had a record March. Sales then stabilized until hitting a new record in December. They finished 2021 at +7.7%.
  • General Merchandise Stores – $ in all channels fell in Jan/Feb then spiked in March. Monthly sales by channel varied up/down until all stores turned up in October & set a new GM $ record in December. Clubs/SuprCtrs & $ Stores are leading the way with a combined annual growth rate of +8.9%. These channels promote value. Their success reinforces its consumer importance. Disc. Dept. Strs again show all positive numbers, growing at 4.3%.
  • Office, Gift & Souvenir Stores– $ were up +31.7% vs November and they finished the year up 24.9% vs 2020. However, they were still down -1.7% vs 2019. Things have improved but full recovery is pushed into 2022.
  • Internet/Mail Order – Their December sales broke the $100B for the first time and they finished the year +13.2% vs 2020. This comes on top of a 25.3% lift last year and generates an average growth rate of 19.1%
  • A/O Miscellaneous – This is a group of specialty retailers which includes Florists, Art Stores and Pet Stores (22>24% of total $). In May 2020 they began their recovery. December 2021 was their 8th consecutive month over $10B and set a new record, $11.5B. Yearend $ are +26.3% vs 2020 and +41.6% vs 2019. Avg Growth: 19.0% – 3rd

Relevant Retail began recovery in May 2020 and hit record $ in December. In 2021 $ fell in Jan/Feb, turned up again in March and began a monthly up/down rollercoaster. December $ brought records for both monthly and annual sales. Moreover, all but 1 channel were ahead of all 2020 & 2019 measurements. The big drivers continue to be the Internet, SuperCtrs/Clubs/$ Stores and Hdwe/Farm. Now, the Advance numbers for January.

We have now had 2 straight memorable years. 2020 saw the 2 biggest monthly drops in history but Total Retail finished by reaching $600B for the first time in December. In 2021, the recovery strengthened with all big groups positive in all measurements vs 2019 & 2020 for the final 7 months. Total Retail reached $713B in December and broke the $7T barrier for the year. Relevant Retail was also strong as annual sales reached $4T but in fact, all big groups set annual sales records in 2021. Some channels are still suffering but the Retail market made a widespread, strong recovery. That brings us to 2022. First, let me issue a warning. You will see universal drops in sales from December and some will be huge. This is to be expected and totally normal. Here is the average Dec>Jan $ drop for the 10 years prior to the pandemic:

Total Retail: -20.2%

Restaurants: -8.0%

Auto: -11.5%

Gas Stations: -4.1%

Relevant Retail: -26.5%

The other factor on everyone’s mind is inflation. We will address that issue, especially when we look at the change in sales vs January 2021. Now, let’s get started.

Overall – The only negative numbers are vs December. We should also note that the January sales patterns since 2019 look pretty normal for Total Retail, Relevant Retail and Auto with year over year increases. Remember, January 2020 was pre-pandemic and by January 2021, only Restaurants and Gas Stations had not begun a strong recovery.

Total Retail – Sales in 2021 were up $1.2T (+19.4%) vs 2020, with an annual growth rate of 9.4% since 2019, the best in history. It took 2 years to recover from the Great Recession in 2009. This time it appears that we effectively accomplished it in 1 year. Annual inflation for 2021 vs 2020 was +4.7% so 75.8% of the 19.4% increase was real – 14.7%. In January, sales fell -18.5% from December, which is slightly less than a “normal” -20.2%. This is impressive since December sales reached an all-time high. However, January sales also set a record for the month, beating the previous best in 2021 by 12.3%. Although 2022 is the best performer, January sales for Total Retail have increased regularly since 2019 with an average annual lift of 8.4%. Jan 22 vs Jan 21 – Inflation = +7.5%. “Real” $ increase = +4.8% (39% of 12.3%) Inflation could be starting to have an impact.

Restaurants – They were hit hard by the pandemic and didn’t truly start to recover until March 2021. However, sales in 7 of the last 8 months of 2021 exceeded $70B. December $ were a record for the month and 2021 was the biggest year in history, $821B. January sales fell 10.9% from December, a little higher than their usual 8.0%, but were up 24.9% from 2021. Their January sales pattern clearly reflects their late recovery as sales are only up an average of 4.9% since 2019. Jan 22 vs 21 – Inflation: Food away from home = +6.4%; “Real” $ increase = +18.5% (74.3%). Damn Good!

Auto (Motor Vehicle & Parts Dealers) – Staying at home causes your car to be less of a focus but this group actively worked to overcome this attitude with great deals and a lot of advertising. They finished 2020 up 1% vs 2019 and the last 10 months of 2021 were the biggest in history, generating a record $1.54T in 2021. Their growth rate from 2019>21 averaged +11.3%, the best of any big group. In January 2022, sales fell -11.3%, minimally better than their normal -11.5%. Sales increased 11.4% in January vs 2021. You an see that the biggest increases occurred in 2021 and 2022 but they also have a pretty normal January growth pattern, with an annual average increase of +9.7%. Jan 22 vs 21 – Inflation: Overall = +7.5%; New & Used Vehicles = +23.1%. This means that at best the Real $ increase was +3.9%. The worst and more likely case is that there was actually a decrease in the amount sold in the Auto group.

Gas Stations – Gas Stations were also hit hard. If you stay home, you drive less and obviously need less gas. This group truly started recovery in March 2021. They were positive vs 2019 & 2020 for the last 10 months of 2021 and reached a record $588B (+36.7%) for the year. January sales were down -5.6% from December, slightly more than their usual -4.1%. However, they were up 32.7% vs 2021. You can see that they have a January sales pattern that is similar to Restaurants but more extreme which is evident by their 10.7% 2019>22 growth rate, which is twice as high. Inflation comes to the forefront in this group because the spectacular rise in gasoline prices has generated a lot of headlines in the media. Jan 22 vs Jan 21 – Gasoline Inflation = +40.0%. “Real” $ change = -7.3%. Spend more but get less.

Relevant Retail – Less Auto, Gas and Restaurants – This is considered the “core” of U.S. retail and traditionally accounts for about 60+% of Total Retail Spending. The channels in this group took a variety of paths through the pandemic due to many factors, like closures, binge buying, online shopping and consumers’ focus on “home”. However, their only down month was April 2020. They finished 2020, up +7.1% and 2021 got even better. March>December were 10 of the 12 biggest months of all time and helped generate a record $4.47T, +14.1% in 2021. They have led the way in Total Retail’s recovery with an average annual growth rate from 2019 of +10.6%. The recovery was primarily driven by Nonstore, Grocery, SuperCtrs/Clubs/$ Stores and Hardware/Farm but it became widespread with help from channels like Sporting Goods and even Miscellaneous Stores (includes Pet). In January sales fell -23.9% from December but still set a record for the month. This looks like a big decrease but is actually less than the normal drop of -26.5%. It reinforces the importance of December holiday sales to this group. Sales in January were +8.2% vs 2021 and almost equal to their annual growth rate of +8.3% since 2019. Their January sales pattern shows regular growth since 2019 but the biggest lift occurred in 2021 as more channels became productive and they strongly kicked off what was to become a record year. Jan 22 vs Jan 21 – Inflation = +7.5%. “Real” $ increase = +0.7% (8.5% of 8.2%). This is concerning as inflation has stopped, at least temporarily, the real growth in this huge, segment that is critically important to the U.S. Retail Marketplace.

In the groups with the strongest recovery from COVID, Relative Retail and Auto, monthly increases are slowing so we are now starting to see the effect of strong inflation. Now, we’ll look at what is happening in the individual retail channels. Remember, the groups in the chart are less defined than in the Final Monthly reports and we will look across the whole market, not just pet relevant outlets. Also remember the 7.5% inflation rate to put the $ changes into better perspective.

Everyone was down vs December and the January Sales of Electronics & Appliance Stores have been slowly falling since 2019. Sporting Goods were down a little vs 2021 but all other channels showed increases vs every year.

After hitting bottom in April 2020, Relevant Retail has now beat the previous year’s $ for 21 consecutive months. They set an all-time record of $406.8B in December and finished 2020 +$260B vs 2019. 2021 was even stronger with record sales in every month and a new record of $461.0B in December & Yr-end, $4.47T. Essential channels were the drivers:

  • Nonstore Retailers
  • Food & Beverage – Grocery
  • Bldg Materials/Garden/Farm
  • SuperCtrs/Club/Value/$ Strs

That brings us to 2022. Relevant Retail was up 8.2% vs 2021 but inflation was 7.5%, so the real increase was about 0.7%. In fact, only 7 of 13 channels had a year over year sales increase over 7.5% and some were just barely over.

General Merchandise Stores – Sales fell sharply vs December, especially in Department Stores, -50.3%. In terms of increase vs 2021, they beat inflation with +10.3% but sales growth was strong because of 2 straight years of decline. Average growth is only 1.9%. Clubs/SuperCtrs/$ stores didn’t beat inflation, but their annual average growth rate is 8.1%. They are the key to the future of the GM channel. Here are the actual and “real” increases from 2021.

  • All GM: +6.4%, Real = -1.1%; Dept Stores: +10.3%, Real = +2.8%; Club/SuprCtr/$: +5.8%, Real = -1.7%

Food and Beverage, plus Health & Personal Care Stores – These stores are more essential and depend on frequent purchases so the drop from December was less severe. They had similar January lifts but the average increase for Grocery/Food & Beverage, +7.0% is twice that of Health/Drug stores, +3.5%. (BTW: Grocery Inflation was +7.4% vs 2021)

  • Food & Bev: +7.2%, Real = -0.2%; Grocery: +8.1%, Real = +0.7%; Health/Drug Stores: +7.7%, Real = +0.2%

Clothing and Accessories; Electronic & Appliances; Home Furnishings – A big drop from December, especially for Clothing but they have mostly recovered. The January order pattern and growth rate shows an earlier and stronger recovery for Furniture. Electronic/Appliance is just now back to 2019 $ and continued their pattern of January declines.

  • Clothing: +19.1%, Real = +11.6%; Electronic/Appliance: -3.0%, Real = -10.5%; Furniture: +1.5%, Real = -6.0%

Building Material, Farm & Garden & Hardware –Their Dec>Jan drop was small, as expected. They have benefited from consumers focusing on their home needs. They ended 2020 (+14.3%) and 2021 (+13.5%) and continued strong into January with a 12.7% increase over 2021 so they’re still beating inflation 2022 = +12.7%, Real = +5.2%

Sporting Goods, Hobby and Book Stores – Consumers turned their attention to personal recreation and sales in Sporting Goods outlets took off. The group ended 2020 +7.0% vs 2019 and 2021 was up an incredible +28.6%. January was down -44.3% from December and even down -0.8% from 2021, reducing its avg growth from 14.5% to 9.2%. Their incredible record setting run may have come to an end and stabilized at a new, higher level. 2022 = -0.8%%, Real = -8.3%.

All Miscellaneous Stores – Pet Stores have been a key part of the strong and still growing recovery of this group. They finished 2020 +0.9% but sales took off in March 2021, hitting a record $17.1B in December. Sales fell an average amount in January but were still 13.2% ahead of 2021 which was the 2nd best, behind Clothing Stores. This put their average January growth rate at +11.4%, second only to Nonstore Retailers. 2022 = +13.2%, Real = +5.7%

NonStore Retailers – 90% of the volume of this group comes from Internet/Mail Order/TV. The pandemic accelerated the movement to online retail. They ended 2020 +21.4%, +162.9B. This was 63% of the entire increase for Relevant Retail. Sales growth continued in 2021 and in December monthly sales exceeded $100B for the 1st time. For the year, they finished +13.6% and also broke the $1 Trillion barrier. January sales fell -25.4% from December but were +8.9% vs 2021 and they maintained the highest average rate of increase, +13.6%. 2021 = +8.9%, Real = +1.4%

Note: Almost without exception, online sales by brick ‘n mortar retailers are recorded with their regular store sales.

Recap – 2020 was quite a year, with the trauma of April & May followed by the triumph of breaking $600B for the first time in December. 2021 was even more memorable as it produced record sales for all major groups and Total Retail exceeded $7T for the 1st time. Relevant Retail was the major driver in this recovery. Since May of 2020 their sales have exceeded 2020 and 2019 in all measurements and reached $4.47T in 2021. The recovery was widespread as all but 2 groups on our Advance Chart set sales records in 2021. January began pretty normally for Relevant Retail with a -23.9% drop from December. This is slightly less than average and actually very good considering the record Holiday sales in 2021. With the strong retail recovery, another unexpected issue has come to the forefront, runaway inflation. The CPI is rising at year over year rates that haven’t been seen in decades. The retail recovery means a return to “normal” which includes smaller, more “normal” sales increases. Right now, sales continue to increase. Consumers often pay more but get less. As we’ve seen in the Pet Industry, strong inflation can severely reduce sales. We’ll keep tracking the retail market.

Retail Channel Monthly $ Update – November Final & December Advance

The Retail market hit bottom in April 2020 then began its recovery. The journey has been long and complex and Consumer spending behavior continues to evolve. Amazingly, we have not beaten the virus yet so we will continue to track any impact on the retail marketplace with data from two reports provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Reports are the Monthly Retail Sales Report and the Advance Retail Sales Report. Both are derived from sales data gathered from retailers across the U.S. and are published monthly at the same time. The Advance Report has a smaller sample size so it can be published quickly – about 2 weeks after month end. The Monthly Final Report includes data from all respondents, so it takes longer to compile the data – about 6 weeks. Although the sample size for the Advance report is smaller, the results over the years have proven it to be statistically accurate with the final monthly reports. The biggest difference is that the full sample in the Final report allows us to “drill” a little deeper into the retail channels.

We begin Final Retail Report for November and then move to the Advance Report for December, giving us a first look at year-end 2021. The retail impact of the pandemic began in March 2020, peaked in April, then recovery started in May. We will compare 2021 to both 2020 and 2019 to document the progress of the retail market to a full recovery.

Both reports include the following:

  • Total Retail, Restaurants, Auto, Gas Stations and Relevant Retail (removing Restaurants, Auto and Gas)
  • Individual Channel Data – This will be more detailed in the “Final” reports, and we fill focus on Pet Relevant Channels

The information will be presented in detailed charts to facilitate visual comparison between groups/channels of:

  • Current Month change – % & $ vs previous month
  • Current Month change – % & $ vs same month in 2020 and 2019
  • Current YTD change – % & $ vs 2020 and 2019
  • Monthly and Year To Date $ will also be shown for each group/channel

First, the November Final. Retail hit bottom in April 2020 but began recovery, hitting record $ in December. $ fell in January/February but set a new $ records in March and then again in May. Sales declined through September but turned up again in October & November. Here are the major retail groups. (All $ are Actual, Not Seasonally Adjusted)

The final total is $0.6B more than the Advance report projected a month ago. 2 groups were up and 2 were down. The specifics were: Auto: +$0.8B; Gas Stations: +$0.2B; Restaurants: -$0.2B; Relevant Retail: -$0.1B. Sales vs October were down for all groups but Relevant Retail. Total Retail $ales broke $600B for the 1st time in December. November $ales beat that number and in fact, set a new all time record. Auto continues to have the strongest recovery with an annual YTD growth rate since 2019 of +11.4%. A $ dip in November is normal for all but Relevant Retail as we start the holiday season. Importantly, for the 6th consecutive month, all groups were positive in all measurements vs 2020 or 2019.

Now, let’s see how some Key Pet Relevant channels were doing in November.

  • Overall – 4 were down vs last month. Drug & Supermarket drops were minor while the Farm dip was normal. Office/Gift/Souvenir $ were down vs October & YTD vs 2019. November set a new $ record for Relevant Retail.
  • Building Material Stores – Their amazing lift has slowed as we move into winter. The surge came from pandemic spending patterns developed in 2020. Consumers began focusing on their homes. Their Spring lift has slowed in 2021 but Building and Farm stores are still going strong. Sporting Goods stores have a similar pattern. Sales took off in May 2020, hit a record peak in December and continued strong into 2021, peaking in March. $ slowed a little through October but set a new record in November. YTD they are +47.6% vs 2019, a Growth Rate of 21.5%!
  • Food & Drug – Supermarkets were +$77.7B in 2020. $ are down vs October but +7.3% vs November 2020. YTD $ are on par with the 2020 binge and +15.5% vs 2019. Drug Stores were +$17B (+5.7%) for 2020. They had a record March. Sales have been relatively stable since then. Their YTD $ are +7.4%.
  • General Merchandise Stores – $ in all channels fell in Jan & Feb then spiked in March. Monthly sales by channel have been up or down since then but GM set a new non-December sales record in November. Clubs/SuprCtrs & $ Stores are leading the way with a combined annual growth rate of +8.9%. These channels promote value. Their success reinforces its consumer importance. Disc. Dept. Strs again show all positive numbers, growing at 4.9%.
  • Office, Gift & Souvenir Stores– $ are down sharply from October (normal) but were +24.3% vs November 2020. COVID hit them hard. They are still down YTD vs 2019 but getting a little better. Recovery will take more time.
  • Internet/Mail Order – Their sales were +19.3% from October as we move into the holidays. Their COVID fueled growth continues. In November 2019, their avg annual growth rate was +12.9%. Now, it is +19.6% – up 51.9%
  • A/O Miscellaneous – This is a group of specialty retailers – chains and indies. It includes Florists, Art Stores and Pet Stores (22>24% of total $). Pet Stores were usually essential, but most stores were not. In May 2020 they began their recovery. Their 2020 sales were up +12.1%. November 2021 was their 7th consecutive month over $10B and set a new record, $11.0B. YTD $ are +27.5% vs 2020 and +41.0% vs 2019. Avg Growth: 18.7% – 3rd Best

Relevant Retail began recovery in May and hit record $ in December. $ fell in Jan & Feb, turned up again in March and began a monthly up/down rollercoaster. November $ set a record and all channels but 1 are ahead of all 2020 & 2019 $. The big drivers are the Internet, SuperCtrs/Clubs/$ Stores and Hdwe/Farm. Now, the Advance numbers for December.

2020 was a memorable year. In April & May we experienced the 2 biggest retail spending drops in history, but the problems actually began in March. Retail sales began to recover in June and in October, YTD Total Retail turned positive for the 1st time since February. In December, Total Retail broke the $600B barrier – a historic first. Sales fell in both January and February but still set monthly sales records. Then they took off again in March, setting a new monthly sales record. April sales were down slightly but they spiked again in May to set yet another spending record. June>Sept $ fell but then came back in October>December. November & December set new records with December reaching $715B. Only Gas Stations were down vs November, but all were positive in all other measurements for the 7th straight month. 2021 is also memorable. All big groups set $ records. Total Retail broke the $7T barrier and Relevant Retail passed $4T. Other areas of the economy are still suffering and inflation has become a bigger factor in increases. However, consumers continue to spend “big bucks”, especially in Relevant Retail, and the overall Retail market continues its strong recovery.

Total Retail – In March and May Total Retail set new sales records. From June>Sept sales dipped slightly. October through year-end saw a resurgence with November & December setting all time records. December $ reached $715B and 2021 numbers totaled $7.4T, both barrier breakers. Sales finished +19.3% vs 2020 with an average annual sales growth rate since 2019 of 9.5%. The previous highest growth rate ever in records going back to 1992 was 8.23% in 1993>1994. More History: Sales fell in both 2008 & 2009. Total drop: -8.4%. Recovery took 2 years. 2010 & 2011. Total increase was +13.1%. Net increase 2007>2011: +3.6%. Avg Growth: +0.9%. Inflation Note: Retail $ were +16.9% vs December 2020. Inflation was +7.0% so up to 41% of the lift came from higher prices. The “Real” increase was +9.9%. In December 2019 (pre-pandemic), Retail $ were +5.5% over 2018. Inflation was 2.3%, 42% of the lift. The “Real” increase was +3.2%. Long term, strong inflation can slow spending but right now, Retail is far outperforming pre-COVID 2019.

Restaurants – This group has no negative measurements vs 2020 or 2019 for 7 straight months. February 2020 YTD sales were up 8.1% vs 2019. In March Restaurants started to close or cease in person dining and sales fell -$33.3B (-52.5%) vs 2019. Sales hit bottom in April at $30.1B, the lowest April $ since 2003. Sales started to slowly increase in May but never reached a level higher than 88% vs the previous year. 2021 started off slowly. Through February, YTD sales were -16.7% from pre-pandemic 2020 and -10.0% from 2019. In March sales took off and hit a record $76.5B in July. 7 of the last 8 months in 2021 exceeded $70B which produced a record year, $821B. +32.1% vs 2020 and +6.1% vs 2019. Avg Growth since 2019 = +3.0%

Auto (Motor Vehicle & Parts Dealers) – Staying home causes your car to be less of a focus in your life. Sales began to fall in March and hit bottom in April. Auto Dealers began combating this “stay at home” attitude with fantastic deals and a lot of advertising. It worked. They finished 2020 up 1% vs 2019 and have returned to a strong positive pattern in 2021. The “attitude” grew amazingly positive in a record March and slowed only slightly from April>December as sales exceeded $119.8B in all 10 months – the 10 biggest months in history. Their campaign was amazingly effective in recovering the business in 2020 and generated a record $1.54T in 2021, up 23.6% vs 2020. Their Year-end Avg Annual Growth Since 2019 = +11.4% – the best performance of any big group.

Gas Stations – Gas Station $ales have been mixed. If you drive less, you need less gas. Sales turned down in March 2020 and reached their low point in April. They moved up but generally stayed about 15% below 2019 levels for the rest of 2020. In February they were still behind 2020 in monthly and YTD $ but ahead of 2019 in both measurements. In March, sales skyrocketed and continued to grow to a record level in July. They fell in Aug/Sept but reached a record $55.3B in October. Sales fell in Nov/Dec, but they have been positive in all measurements vs 2019 & 2020 since March. This produced a record $588B for 2021, +36.6%. However, inflation comes to the forefront in this channel. Gas prices can be volatile. They dipped in the first 2 months of the pandemic but returned to more normal levels for the balance of 2020. Strong inflation began in 2021. In fact, December prices were 49.6% above 2020. That means that the 41.4% year over year $ lift in December was actually a decrease in the amount of gas sold. Year-end Growth Rate Since 2019 = +7.1%

Relevant Retail – Less Auto, Gas and Restaurants – This is considered the “core” of U.S. retail and traditionally accounts for about 60+% of Total Retail Spending. In looking at the individual channels in this group, we have seen a variety of results due to many factors, like non-essential closures, binge buying, online shopping and a consumer focus on “home”. However, overall, April 2020 was the only month in which spending in this group was down vs 2019. Monthly $ales exceeded $400B for the first time ever in December. They finished 2020 up $260B, +7.1%. Their performance was the only reason that Total Retail was able to finish 2020 with positive numbers, +0.5%. Sales fell in January and February 2021 but set monthly records. In March they turned sharply up and then began an up/down $ roller coaster ride. Sales turned up in October and set a record in November which was blown away by $461B in December. March>December are 10 of the 12 highest $ months of all time and helped generate a record $4.47T in 2021, +14.1%. Relevant Retail has exceeded $361B in monthly sales 12 times. 11 of those have occurred since the onset of the pandemic. It is also very important that the Relevant Retail group has posted positive numbers versus last year and YTD for every month since April 2020 and their average YTD growth rate since 2019 is +10.5%. The recovery has become widespread as all channels have been positive in all measurements vs both 2020 and 2019 for 5 consecutive months. The primary recovery drivers were and continue to be Nonstore, Grocery, SuperCenters/Clubs/$ Stores plus a never ending “spring lift” from Hardware/Farm and Sporting Goods and growing help from Miscellaneous Stores (includes Pet).

Now let’s look at what is happening in the individual retail channels to see where the $ are coming from. December $ were up 13.3% from November and an increase occurred in 12 of 13 channels. Remember, the groups in the chart are less defined than in the Final Monthly reports and we will look across the whole market, not just pet relevant outlets.

Sales in 12 of 13 channels were up vs November but all were up vs December 2020, vs December 2019 and YE (Year-end) vs 2020 and 2019. (Relevant Retail Avg Annual Growth Rate since 2019 = +10.5%)

After hitting bottom in April 2020, Relevant Retail has beat the previous year’s $ for 20 consecutive months. They set an all-time record of $406.8B in December and finished 2020 +$260B vs 2019. 2021 was even stronger with record sales in every month and a new all-time record of $461.0B in December & YE: $4.47T. Essential channels were consistent drivers:

  • Nonstore Retailers – The biggest driver. Online shopping continues to grow in # of households and in $.
  • Food & Beverage – Grocery– Restaurant $ have come back but consumers continue to eat & drink more at home.
  • Bldg Materials/Garden/Farm– Their “Spring” lift may be ending but consumers are still focused on their homes.
  • SuperCtrs/Club/Value/$ Strs – They kept the GM channel strongly positive. Value is still a big consumer priority.

Regarding the Individual Large Channels (Includes YE Actual increase vs 2020 & Avg Annual Growth Rate since 2019)

General Merchandise Stores – Sales increased for all channels vs November and all other numbers were also positive. Even Department Stores $ are growing increasingly positive. After dipping to +7.5% in February, the avg growth rate by Club/SuperCtr/$ stores has stabilized at about 8.9% ever since. These stores are still the key to this channel.

  • All GM: +12.1%, Avg = +7.6%; Dept Stores: 21.7%, Avg = +1.5%; Club/SuprCtr/$: +10.2%, Avg = +8.9%

Food and Beverage, plus Health & Personal Care Stores – Sales in Grocery were down in March>May from 2020 – No surprise, as these were 2020 binge months. In Jun>Dec they beat 2020 $. Health/Personal Care finished 2020 at +1.8% but 2021 has been better. December was up 15.1% from November and YE $ are +9.5%% vs 2020 and +11.4% vs 2019.

  • Food & Bev: +4.2%, Avg = +7.9%; Grocery: +3.7%, Avg = +7.6%; Health/Drug Stores: +9.5%, Avg = +5.6%

Clothing and Accessories; Electronic & Appliances; Home Furnishings – March > Dec have been spectacular for all these channels. The increase in Clothing vs November was an incredible +41.0%. All were up vs last month, remained positive in all measurements vs 2020 or 2019 for the 10th consecutive month and ended 2021 at least 25% ahead of 2020.

  • Clothing: +48.4%, Avg = +6.2%; Electronic/Appliance: +25.2%, Avg = +3.0%; Furniture: +26.4%, Avg = +10.1%

Building Material, Farm & Garden & Hardware – The lift that began in 2020 has slowed but they have benefited from consumers focusing on their home needs. They ended 2020 +53B (+14.3%). Sales took off in March, set a record in April, but have slowed and stabilized around $39B, including the only Nov>Dec channel $ drop. 2021: +13.5%. Avg = +13.9%

Sporting Goods, Hobby and Book Stores – Book & Hobby stores are open but Sporting Goods stores have driven the lift in this group. Consumers turned their attention to personal recreation and sales in Sporting Goods outlets took off. The group ended 2020 +7.0% vs 2019. The growth accelerated in 2021 ending with a huge lift in December, up 30.7% from November to $13.5B, by far their biggest month ever. At year-end they were +28.6%. Avg Annual Growth = +17.3%

All Miscellaneous Stores – Pet Stores were deemed essential but most other stores were not, so closures hit this group particularly hard. Sales hit bottom at -$3.8B in April then began to rebound. They finished with a strong December and ended 2020 +$1.2B, +0.9%. In March 2021 sales took off and reached the $14+B level in May. They have stayed there and set a record of $15.3B in October. Sales spiked spectacularly in December, setting a new monthly record of $17.1. At  year-end they were +27.3% with an Avg Growth = +13.3% (4th Best). Their recovery is very real.

NonStore Retailers – 90% of the volume of this group comes from Internet/Mail Order/TV. The pandemic accelerated the movement to online retail. In February 2020 NonStore $ were +8.6% YTD. In December monthly sales exceeded $100B for the 1st time. They ended 2020 at +21.4%, +$162.9B. This was 63% of the total $ increase for Relevant Retail Channels. Their 2020 performance made them the largest channel and every month in 2021 has produced record $. December set a new all-time monthly record of $115.4B and Year-end 2021 $ exceeded $1 Trillion, +13.6%. Avg Annual Growth= +17.4%

Note: Almost without exception, online sales by brick ‘n mortar retailers are recorded with their regular store sales.

Recap – 2020 was quite a year. April & May had the 2 biggest YOY sales decreases in history while December sales broke $600B for the first time. 2021 may be even more memorable. With a strong December, Total Retail and all major groups had a record year. Total Retail broke $7T for the 1st time. The Relevant Retail group began their recovery in May 2020 and kept Total Retail positive in 2020. They continued to grow in 2021 to a record $4.47T. The recovery was widespread. A few small channels are still struggling but all groups in the December chart, but Dept & Electronics Stores set sales records in 2021. FYI: Nonstore reached $1 Trillion and is the largest channel for the second consecutive year, with 23.5% of Relevant Retail $. The Holiday season also set records. It likely began early with a record October but Nov/Dec still “rule”. In 2021, Nov/Dec Relevant Retail $ were a record $868B, +14.0% from 2020. Some Services Outlets are still suffering but almost all Retail Channels have recovered. While some Consumer retail spending behaviors may have changed, the U.S. Retail Market is the strongest in history.

PET STORES – CHAINS vs INDIES

In our 30 year history of Pet Stores, we tracked their rise to the top spot in pet products sales, which was largely due to the creation and rapid growth of chains and Pet SuperStores. They gained the #1 position in 1997 and have held it ever since. However, that journey has not been without challenges. They maintained a 40% market share in Pet Products in 1997 and 2002 but that fell to 33.1% in 2012 due to increased competition from the mass market. From 2012 to 2017, there was a new challenger – the Internet, but Pet Stores remained strong. They increased their share of Pet Products sales slightly to 33.3%. This was a small, but very significant gain as Pet Stores and $ Stores were the only 2 retail channels to gain market share in Pet Products $ in this 1st Internet Tsunami.

There is no doubt that that Pet Stores are resilient and a key consumer channel for Pet Parents. However, not all pet stores are the same. There is the key difference of Indies vs Chains. However, not all chains are created equal. They range from small local chains to regional to the national behemoths. In this report we will look at how these groups have progressed from 2002 to 2017, with an especially deep look at who stood their ground from 2012 to 2017 and how they did it.

We’ll start with the share of stores and Total $ for 2017 for independents and various sizes of chains. Remember, there were 9984 pet stores (with employees) in 2017, an increase of 1192 (+13.6%) from 2012. $ales showed even stronger growth, up $3.6B (+24.7%) to $18.4B in 2017.

Pet Store Numbers – Indies lost a little ground while the big chains are growing at a staggering rate. The small local chains (2>9 Stores) are also growing, especially the 5>9 group. The 10>24 group lost share, but they are basically in a transitional step on their way to 25+ stores. Chain Stores have more than half of all pet outlets with employees, 51.5%.

Pet Store $ales – The big chains dominate Pet Store $, 71.5%. However, $ales in the Indies and small local chains are still growing. $ales in the small chains are actually growing at a significantly higher rate than the big guys.

This shows where the pet store channel is at. Let’s see how it got there with data from 2002 to 2017. First # of Stores

Share of Pet Stores

  • The number of Pet Stores grew from 7626 in 2002 to 9984 in 2017, an increase of 2358 (+30.9%).
  • The number of Indies has slowly but steadily declined from 5285 in 2002 to 4839 in 2017, -446 (-8.4%)
  • During the same period, chain store outlets have more than doubled, from 2341 in 2002 to 5145 in 2017, +2804 (+119.8%).
  • That makes 2017 a very significant year. Independent Pet Stores were a key part of the foundation of the Pet Industry. For the 1st time they were outnumbered by chain stores.
  • The big chains, 25+ stores, have been the driving force in the growth in the number of Pet Stores in the 21st century. They went from 1512 stores in 2002 to 4287 in 2017, +2775 (+183.5%) – almost triple.
  • The 10>24 Store chains are a transitional phase, so their market share has been up and down. They are often focused on growing numbers for a stronger regional or even national presence so many move up to the 25+ group.
  • The 2>9 group is a combination of the 2>4 and 5>9 store groups and was created because their growth pattern is very similar. As you can see, their share of stores fell consistently from 2002 to 2012. Their store count fell from 646 to 554, -14.2% during this period. Then they turned it around. They added 16 more companies and 72 stores (+13.0%) between 2012 and 2017. They didn’t gain share but held their ground vs the big guys.

Now let’s look how the share of Pet Store $ have “evolved” over the same period.

Share of Pet Store $

  • Pet Store $ales grew from $7.6B in 2002 to $18.4B in 2017, a $10.8B (+142.1%) increase.
  • Independent Store $ increased from $2.4B to $3.8B, +$1.4B (+58.3%) during those years. That’s a 3.1% annual increase but it wasn’t nearly enough as they lost significant share through 2012. 2012>2017 was a different story. Their sales increased +22.1%. They lost 0.4% in share but essentially “held their ground”.
  • Chain stores have dominated the $ in this channel since 1997. Between 2002 and 2017 their total sales grew from $5.2B to $14.6B (+180.8%). As Indies lost share, they gained. From 2012 to 2017, their sales increased +$2.9B (+25.4%). However, like the Indies, their share essentially plateaued.
  • Like store count, the big chains have driven the growth in Pet Store $. Their sales grew $4.3B, +104.7% between 2002 and 2017. However, their growth from 2012 to 2017 was 25.1%, slightly below the rate of total chain $.
  • The transitional 10>24 Store chains had an up and down pattern that exactly mirrored their pattern in store count. They had a 2.1% increase in $ from 2012 to 2017 which resulted in a 27.6% drop in share, from 2.9% to 2.1%.
  • The 2>9 Store local chain group earned the only green highlight on the chart. From 2002 to 2012 their $ grew +2.7% but Their share of $ was nearly cut in half. The 2012>2017 period had a radically different story. Their $ales grew +$0.34B (+47.1%), by far the biggest percentage increase of any group. At $1.05B, they broke the “billion $ barrier” for the first time. Their share of $ grew 0.9% to 5.7%, an 18.8% increase.

This last chart on share of $ told a similar story to the store count chart up until 2012. Then some patterns changed. This suggests that we should take a closer look at what happened between 2012 and 2017. In this next chart we look at the % change in some key measurements from 2012 to 2017 for the different groups of Pet Stores.

Before we get to the specifics for each group, we’ll comment about how each measurement relates to our “deep dive”.

  • Total $ – The gap between share of $ for Chains and Independents had been growing through 2012. Then the growth flattened out in 2017. This change in pattern indicated that we should look a little deeper. There are 2 primary drivers behind a change in $ – Number of Stores and Average Sales per store.
  • # of Stores – This is often the main reason behind a change in $. If your business model remains unchanged, then your $ are connected to your store count – up or down.
  • Avg $/Store – This can reflect product trends in the industry and is also a measure of your consumer appeal. The movement to Super Premium Pet Foods began in 2014/15 and had a differing impact upon the groups.
  • # of Employees – If you don’t change your in store business model, this should be directly tied to store count.
  • Avg # Employees/Store – Employees have a variety of functions, including stocking shelves, building displays and keeping the store “cleaned and polished”. However, the most important responsibility may be interacting with customers. Pet Parents want interaction and discussion when they are shopping for products for their Pet “Children”. This has been a key reason that Pet Stores have maintained the top $ position over other channels.

Now, let’s see how the various Pet Store groups performed in these areas between 2012 and 2017.

  • All Pet Stores – This will be a key group for comparison as it reflects the progress of the entire Pet Store Channel.
    • Total $: $18.4B, +24.7%
    • # Stores: 9984, +13.6%
    • Avg $/Str: $1.84M, +9.8%
    • # Employees: 119.9K, +13.6%
    • # Employ/Str: 12.01, +0.01%

The growth in Total $ came from both increased store count and $ per store but more stores was the biggest driver. In terms of employees, the overall model was unchanged as employees/store went from 12.0 to 12.01.

  • Single Stores – They don’t have the most number of stores for the 1st time in history.
    • Total $: $3.8B, +22.2%
    • # Stores: 4839, -2.5%
    • Avg $/Str: $0.78M, +25.3%
    • # Employees: 29.3K, +8.3%
    • # Employ/Str: 6.1, +11.0%

They lost some stores but radically increased the $ per store. Specialty Super Premium foods and increased consumer connection from more employees per store were factors in holding their ground in share of $.

  • All Chains – Now, the biggest group in both $ and Stores. We’ll look for similarities and differences within the group.
    • Total $: $14.6B, +25.3%
    • # Stores: 5145, +34.3%
    • Avg $/Str: $2.83M, -6.7%
    • # Employees: 90.6K, +15.5%
    • # Employ/Str: 17.6, -14.0%

Overall, their $ growth slightly exceeded the channels growth rate, but it was entirely driven by more stores as the average store sales fell. They also added a lot of employees but the employees per store fell significantly. One factor is that some chains began adding smaller format stores to save money and have a more personal experience.

  • 2>4 Store Chains – We added this group back in to look for differences between them and the 5>9 Store group.
    • Total $: $0.55B, +37.3%
    • # Stores: 362, +7.4%
    • Avg $/Str: $1.53M, +27.8%
    • # Employees: 4.4K, +26.3
    • # Employ/Str: 12.2, +17.6%

This group represents a critical time for Pet Store owners. They have a successful store. Could they do even better if they added another location or 2.  In 2017, more companies opted in, but others continued to grow and moved up to the 5>9 group. They grew 7.4% in stores but increased the number of employees per store by twice that amount, +17.6%. This is important any time, but it was extremely important in the movement to Super Premium food. They offered the product but also had the personnel to discuss the consumers’ wants and needs. This helped drive their per store sales up 27.8%, to a level double that of Single Stores and produced a 37.3% increase in Total $.

  • 5>9 Store Chains – This group, with more stores and better coverage can become a major force in local markets.
    • Total $: $0.50B, +59.9%
    • # Stores: 264, +21.7%
    • Avg $/Str: $1.89M, +31.4%
    • # Employees: 3.1K, +34.7%
    • # Employ/Str: 11.7, +10.8%

This group had a game plan similar to the 2>4 group but with even stronger results. They added even more stores. This, in combination with increased store sales drove Total $ up 60%. They have the stores and people to be strong competition to the big chains in their local market.

  • 10>24 Store Chains – Most are committed to further growth so there is a continual influx and outflow of companies.
    • Total $: $0.39B, -7.2%
    • # Stores: 232, -15.0%
    • Avg $/Str: $1.69M, +9.2%
    • # Employees: 2.3K, -0.4%
    • # Employ/Str: 9.7, +17.2%

This is a transitional group, on their way up. They added employees per store and increased Store sales. Their Total $ fell solely because of a 15% drop in the number of stores.

  • 25+ Store Chains – This group is the dominant force in the Pet Store Channel and has been since the 90’s.
    • Total $: $13.1B, +25.1%
    • # Stores: 4287, +42.7%
    • Avg $/Str: $3.06M, -12.3%
    • # Employees: 80.8K, +14.8%
    • # Employ/Str: 18.8, -19.5%

With 42.9% of the stores and 71.5% of the $, there is no doubt this is the dominant group in the Pet Store channel. Their $2.6B (+25.1%) increase was also 72.6% of the Total $ increase for Pet Stores. They are the group that allowed Pet Stores to maintain and gain in market share of pet products against the Mass Market and an Internet Tsunami. With that being said, the group continues to evolve with many new smaller footprint stores designed to give Pet Parents an even more personal retail experience. This contributed to fewer employees per store and reduced Store volume. One thing hasn’t changed. They continue to open stores at a spectacular pace.

Observations

The movement to personalize our pets really came to the forefront of Pet $ with the strong movement to Super Premium Foods which began in the 2nd half of 2014 with Millennials and then spread to Boomers and ultimately became widespread across the consumer marketplace. The big chains remain the bulwark of the Pet Store channel. However, they provided a wall of protection which allowed small, localized chains to grow and prosper. They offer a more personal shopping experience and often were the first to stock and sell some new Super Premium pet foods. You see the results of this broadened appeal in the increase in per store sales for all pet stores with fewer than 25 outlets, including Indies. The biggest % growth in store $ occurred in the 2>4 and 5>9 groups. The 5>9 store group became especially stronger with a 60% increase in Total $. The reason is twofold. They offer a personalized experience but have enough outlets in any given local market to be a convenient option for consumers. We also shouldn’t forget the progress of the 2>4 Store group. I did a year long investigation of Pet Stores 3 years ago to validate the numbers. I found that a large number of new independents entered the market, but over the course of the year, over 8% of existing indies “closed their doors”.

The chain stores, big and small, lost virtually no outlets. There is a lesson here, that is almost as old as humanity but also applies to retail pet stores. “There is safety in numbers!” It just takes 2 or maybe 5 or you could move up to 15. After that the sky is the limit! Chain stores began in the 90’s. The big guys will remain dominant but there is room for all sizes!

There is another classification of Pet Stores that has come more to the forefront….

Pet Store Franchises

Let’s take a closer look. These stores are either owned by the Franchisee or the Franchisor.

In 2017 their share of stores was:

  • All Franchise Stores: 10.6%
  • Franchisee owned: 6%
  • Franchisor Owned: 4.0%

And their share of $ was:

  • All Franchise Stores: 7.7%
  • Franchisee Owned: 3.7%
  • Franchisor Owned: 4.0%

About 1 in every 9 Pet Stores is a Franchise outlet but they take in only 1 of every 13 dollars spent at U.S. Pet Stores. Franchisee Owned lead the way in number of stores, but Franchisor Owned stores produce more $.

This is where they were at in 2017. Let’s take a look at how they got there by viewing the changes in key measurements from 2012 to 2017.

These are the same key measurements, just for groups most relevant to franchises, including their biggest competitor.

  • Non-Franchise Chains – This is their biggest competitor and accounts for 40.9% of stores and 71.6% of Pet Store $.
    • Total $: $13.15B, +21.7%
    • # Stores: 4082, +33.2%
    • Avg $: $3.22M, -8.6%
    • # Employees: 79.8K, +10.6%
    • # Employ/Str: 19.5, -16.9%

Being on top creates a lot of pressure. They had a huge $ increase from opening more stores. Their percentage increase in $ was actually, even smaller than Indies, who closed 2.5% of their stores. They were the only group to have drops in Average Store $ and the number of employees per store.

  • Total Franchise Stores – They gained ground in share of stores and $ but 1 subgroup was a bigger driver.
    • Total $: $1.42B, +72.5%
    • # Stores: 1063, +38.8%
    • Avg $: $1.33M, +24.3%
    • # Employees: 10.8K, +70.9%
    • # Employ/Str: 10.1, +23.1%

Their growth rate in stores and Total $ was basically triple that of the whole Pet Store channel. The growth rate for Average Store $ was slightly behind the rate for Indies but it was 70% higher in actual $. They also led the way in employee increases and broke the 10 employee per store “barrier”.

  • Franchisee Owned Stores – Same name and business model, but different levels of execution from corporate stores.
    • Total $: $0.68B, +39.5%
    • # Stores: 660, +19.1%
    • Avg $: $1.04M, +17.1%
    • # Employees: 5.6K, +37.2%
    • # Employ/Str: 8.5, +15.2%

Although they lost some share to Franchisor Owned stores, they are still 62.1% of all Franchise Stores. They had significant growth in all measurements, but the store level execution of the Franchise business model can vary between stores producing a lower growth rate. In many ways the business behavior of these stores is more like that of an enhanced Independent Store. They have the 2nd lowest Store $ and number of employees per store. Both these measurements are 30+ higher than Indies and 30+% lower than Franchisor Owned stores. The growth in stores is promoted and driven by the Corporation and the increase in store $ over an independent store likely comes from the impact of the store Brand name and the Franchise business model.

  • Franchisor Owned Stores – These stores are classified as Franchises but essentially operate like a regular chain.
    • Total $: $0.73B, +120.9%
    • # Stores: 403, +90.1%
    • Avg $: $1.82M, +16.2%
    • # Employees: 5.2K, +132.2%
    • # Employ/Str: 12.9, +22.1%

Like the big regular chains, this group made a commitment to store growth. They increased the number of stores by an amazing 90%. This combined with a 16% increase in store $ produced a 121% increase in total $. Not to rain on their parade, but their average $ per store is still slightly below the $1.84M for Total Pet Stores and 43% lower than the $3.22M for Non-Franchise Chains. Their 22% growth in employees per store should also come with an (*). They have the lowest annual pay per employee for any group, even 29% below that for Indies, and it fell -6.8% between 2012 and 2017. It is likely that they have a high and growing percentage of part-time employees.

That wraps up our look at Franchised Pet Stores. We saw that Franchisee owned stores outperform Independent Stores, but Franchisor owned significantly outperformed them in store $ and growth. True performance is the share of $ divided by the share of stores. A score of 100+% means that a group is “earning their share”. Performance provides us a method to compare the subsets of Franchises to the subsets of store count. We will end our Pet Store analysis with this graph:

As expected, singles are the worst performers. If you’re considering opening a store, buying a franchise might offer more success. If you already have a successful store, should you open another? The answer appears to be yes. There is safety in numbers and greatly improved performance in the 2>4 group. Now comes the big question. Do you have the will and the resources to become a “force” in your local market? If so, then go for it. The 5>9 store group is 1 of only 2 groups performing above 100%. They even outperform the Franchisor owned group. The final step to 25+ stores is difficult and open to few. You first transition to 10>24 stores, where you learn the challenges of attaining regional success in possible anticipation of a national goal. That goal is truly “gold” as 25+ are the best performers and responsible for Pet Stores holding their ground in 2017 vs the Mass/Internet.

 

 

Retail Channel Monthly $ Update – October Final & November Advance

The Retail market hit bottom in April 2020 then began its recovery. The journey has been long and complex and Consumer spending behavior continues to evolve. We have not beaten the virus yet so we will continue to track the ongoing recovery of the retail marketplace with data from two reports provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Reports are the Monthly Retail Sales Report and the Advance Retail Sales Report. Both are derived from sales data gathered from retailers across the U.S. and are published monthly at the same time. The Advance Report has a smaller sample size so it can be published quickly – about 2 weeks after month end. The Monthly Final Report includes data from all respondents, so it takes longer to compile the data – about 6 weeks. Although the sample size for the Advance report is smaller, the results over the years have proven it to be statistically accurate with the final monthly reports. The biggest difference is that the full sample in the Final report allows us to “drill” a little deeper into the retail channels.

We will begin with the Final Retail Report for October and then move to the Advance Report for November. Remember, the retail impact of the pandemic began in March 2020, peaked in April, then recovery started in May. We will compare 2021 to both 2020 and 2019 to document the progress that the retail market has made towards a full recovery.

Both reports include the following:

  • Total Retail, Restaurants, Auto, Gas Stations and Relevant Retail (removing Restaurants, Auto and Gas)
  • Individual Channel Data – This will be more detailed in the “Final” reports and we fill focus on Pet Relevant Channels

The information will be presented in detailed charts to facilitate visual comparison between groups/channels of:

  • Current Month change – % & $ vs previous month
  • Current Month change – % & $ vs same month in 2020 and 2019
  • Current YTD change – % & $ vs 2020 and 2019
  • Monthly and Year To Date $ will also be shown for each group/channel

First, the October Final. Retail hit bottom in April 2020 but began recovery, hitting record $ in December. $ fell in January/February but set a new $ records in March and then again in May. Sales declined through September but turned up in October. Here are the major retail groups. (All $ are Actual, Not Seasonally Adjusted)

The final total is $0.7B less than the Advance report projected a month ago. All groups but Restaurants were down slightly. The specifics were: Relevant Retail: -$0.8B; Gas Stations: -$0.1B; Auto: -$0.3B; Restaurants: +$0.5B. Sales vs September were up in all groups. Total Retail $ales broke $600B for the 1st time in December. October sales beat that number and in fact were the 4th highest of all time. Auto continues to have the strongest recovery with an annual YTD growth rate since 2019 of +11.6%. While a spending dip in September is the “norm” in U.S. Retail, so is an October rebound. Importantly, for the 5th consecutive month, all groups were positive in all measurements vs 2020 or 2019.

Now, let’s see how some Key Pet Relevant channels were doing in October.

  • Overall – No channels were down vs last month, a big change from 10 in September. In fact, the only negative was Office/Gift/Souvenir YTD $ vs 2019. October was the 2nd biggest month in history for Relevant Retail.
  • Building Material Stores – Their amazing lift has slowed a little. The surge came as a result of pandemic spending patterns developed in 2020. Consumers began focusing on their homes. Their Spring lift has slowed in 2021 but Building and Farm stores are still going strong. Sporting Goods stores have a similar pattern. Sales took off in May 2020, hit a record peak in December and continued strong into 2021, peaking in March. $ slowed but have now stabilized after a big drop in September. YTD they are +47.4% vs 2019, a Growth Rate of 21.4%!
  • Food & Drug – Supermarkets were +$77.7B in 2020. $ are up vs September and +8.3% vs October 2020. YTD $ are on par with the 2020 binge and +15.4% vs 2019. Drug Stores were +$17B (+5.7%) for 2020. They had a record March. Sales have been relatively stable since then. Their YTD $ are +7.2%.
  • General Merchandise Stores – $ in all channels fell in Jan & Feb then spiked in March. Monthly sales by channel have been up or down since then but all were strong in October, +10.1% vs September. Clubs/SuprCtrs & $ Stores are leading the way with a combined annual growth rate of +8.9%. These channels promote value. Their success reinforces its importance to consumers. Disc. Dept. Strs are now rebounding with all positive numbers.
  • Office, Gift & Souvenir Stores– $ are up from September and were +15.1% vs October 2020. The pandemic hit them hard. They are still down YTD vs 2019. Recovery will take more time, but their situation is improving.
  • Internet/Mail Order – Their sales rebounded after dipping in September. The pandemic continues to fuel this channel’s growth. In October 2019, their avg annual growth rate was +14.1%. Now, it is +19.4% – up 37.6%
  • A/O Miscellaneous – This is a group of small to midsized specialty retailers – chains and independents. It includes Florists, Art Stores and Pet Stores (22>24% of total $). Pet Stores were usually essential, but most stores were not. In May 2020 they began their recovery. Their 2020 sales were up +12.1%. October 2021 was their 6th consecutive month over $10B and their 2nd biggest month ever. YTD $ are +27.4% vs 2020 and +40.9% vs 2019.

Relevant Retail began recovery in May and set a $ record in December. $ fell in Jan & Feb, turned up again in March and began a monthly up/down rollercoaster. October $ were up for all and all but 1 channel are ahead of all 2020 & 2019 $. The key drivers are the Internet, SuperCtrs/Clubs/$ Stores and Hdwe/Farm. Now, the Advance numbers for November.

2020 was a memorable year for both its traumas and triumphs. In April & May we experienced the 2 biggest retail spending drops in history, but the problems actually began in March. Retail sales began to recover in June and in October, YTD Total Retail turned positive for the 1st time since February. In December, Total Retail broke the $600B barrier – a historic first. Sales fell in both January and February but still set monthly sales records. Then they took off again in March, setting a new monthly sales record of $633B. April sales were down slightly but they took off again in May to set yet another spending record, $643.1B. June>Sept $ fell but then came back in October & November with November setting a new record of $649.3B. Only Relevant Retail was up vs October, but all were positive in all other measurements for the 6th straight month. Some other areas of the economy are still suffering, some spending behavior has changed, and inflation has become a bigger factor in increases. However, consumers continue to spend “big bucks”, especially in Relevant Retail, and the overall Retail marketplace continues its strong recovery.

Total Retail – In March and then in May Total Retail set new sales records. From June>Sept sales dipped slightly but stayed above $600B. October brought a resurgence and in November sales continued to grow, setting another all time record with monthly sales of $649.3B. Relevant Retail deserves most of the credit for the record as sales for the other groups were down vs October. The current YTD average annual sales growth rate since 2019 for Total Retail is 9.4%, the highest ever in records going back to 1992. Inflation Note: Retail $ were +19.5% vs November 2020. Inflation was +6.8% so up to 35% of the lift came just from higher prices. The “Real” increase was +12.7%. In November 2019 (pre-pandemic) Retail $ were +2.6% over 2018. Inflation was 2.0%, 78% of the lift. The “Real” increase was +0.6%. Long term, strong inflation can slow spending but right now, Retail is far outperforming pre-COVID 2019.

Restaurants – This group has no negative measurements vs 2020 or 2019 for 6 straight months. February 2020 YTD sales were up 8.1% vs 2019. The Pandemic changed that. Restaurants started to close or cease in person dining in March and sales fell -$33.3B (-52.5%) compared to March 2019. Sales bottomed out in April at $30.1B, the lowest April sales since 2003. Sales started to slowly increase in May but never reached a level higher than 88% compared to the previous year. 2021 started off slowly. Through February, YTD sales were down -16.7% from pre-pandemic 2020 and -10.0% from 2019. In March sales took off and grew steadily from April through July. Sales dipped in August/September came back strong in October then fell in November. YTD their $ are +31.7% vs 2020 and +5.2% vs 2019. Their recovery is getting stronger.

Auto (Motor Vehicle & Parts Dealers) – Staying home causes your car to be less of a focus in your life. Sales began to fall in March and hit bottom in April. Auto Dealers began combating this “stay at home” attitude with fantastic deals and a lot of advertising. It worked. They finished 2020 up 1% vs 2019 and have returned to a strong positive pattern in 2021. The “attitude” grew amazingly positive in March and has slowed only slightly from April>November as sales exceeded $119.8B in all 9 months – the 9 biggest months in history. To show the effectiveness of their campaign, just look at the data. This group has exceeded $110B in monthly sales only 18 times in history. 15 of those occurred after the onset of the pandemic.  YTD Avg Annual Growth Since 2019 = +11.3% – the best performance of any big group.

Gas Stations – Gas Station $ales have been a mixed bag. If you drive less, you visit the gas station less often. Sales turned down in March 2020 and reached their low point in April. They moved up but generally stayed about 15% below 2019 levels for the rest of 2020. In February they were still behind 2020 in monthly and YTD $ but ahead of 2019 in both measurements. In March, sales skyrocketed and continued to grow to a record level in July. They fell in Aug/Sept but hit a record $55.3B in October. Sales fell in November, but they have been positive in all measurements vs 2019 & 2020 since March. Their comeback continues but inflation comes to the forefront in this channel. Gas prices can be pretty volatile. They dipped in the first 2 months of the pandemic but returned to more normal levels for the balance of 2020. Strong inflation began in 2021. In fact, November prices were 58.1% above 2020. That means that the 53.0% year over year $ lift in November was actually a decrease in the amount of gas sold. YTD Annual Growth Rate Since 2019 = +6.6%

Relevant Retail – Less Auto, Gas and Restaurants – This is what we consider the “core” of U.S. retail and has traditionally accounted for about 60% of Total Retail Spending. In looking at the individual channels in this group, we have seen a variety of results due to many factors, like non-essential closures, binge buying, online shopping and a consumer focus on “home”. However, overall, April 2020 was the only month in which spending in this group was down vs 2019. Monthly $ales exceeded $400B for the first time ever in December. They finished 2020 up $260B, +7.1%. Their performance was the only reason that Total Retail was able to finish 2020 with positive numbers, +0.5%. Sales fell in January and February 2021 but set monthly records. In March they turned sharply up and then began an up/down $ roller coaster ride. In October they reached the 2nd highest amount on record but November took over the top spot with $407.1B. March>November are 9 of the 11 highest $ months of all time. Relevant Retail has exceeded $361B in monthly sales 11 times in history. 10 of those have occurred since the onset of the pandemic. It is also very important that the Relevant Retail group has posted positive numbers versus last year and YTD for every month since April 2020 and their average YTD growth rate since 2019 is +10.5%. The recovery has become widespread as all channels have been positive in all measurements vs both 2020 and 2019 for 4 consecutive months. However, the primary drivers throughout the pandemic were and continue to be Nonstore, Grocery, SuperCenters/Clubs/$ Stores plus a seemingly never ending  2020 “spring lift” from Hardware/Farm and Sporting Goods.

Now let’s look at what is happening in the individual retail channels to see where the $ are coming from. November $ were up 7.4% from October and an increase occurred in 9 of 13 channels. Remember, the groups in the chart are less defined than in the Final Monthly reports and we will look across the whole market, not just pet relevant outlets.

Sales in 9 of 13 channels were up vs October but all were up vs November 2020, vs November 2019 and YTD vs 2020 and 2019. (Relevant Retail YTD Avg Annual Growth Rate since 2019 = +10.5%)

After hitting bottom in April 2020, Relevant Retail has now beaten the previous year’s $ for 19 consecutive months. The group set an all-time record of $406.8B in December and finished 2020 +$260B vs 2019. 2021 started strong, with record sales in every month, including a new all-time record of $407.1B in November. Essential channels are still the big drivers:

  • Nonstore Retailers – The biggest driver. Online shopping continues to grow in # of households and in $.
  • Food & Beverage – Grocery– Restaurant $ are improving but consumers continue to eat & drink more at home.
  • Bldg Materials/Garden/Farm– Their “Spring” lift may be ending but consumers are still focused on their homes.
  • SuperCtrs/Club/Value/$ Strs – They kept the GM channel strongly positive. Value is still a big consumer priority.

Regarding the Individual Large Channels (Includes YTD Avg Annual Growth Rate since 2019)

General Merchandise Stores – Sales increased for all channels vs October and all other numbers were also positive. Even Department Stores $ are growing increasingly positive. After dipping to +7.5% in February, the growth rate by Club/SuperCtr/$ stores has stabilized at about 8.8% ever since. These stores are still the key to this channel.

  • YTD Avg Annual Growth: All GM = +7.6%; Dept Stores = +1.7%; Club/SuprCtr/$ = +8.9%

Food and Beverage, plus Health & Personal Care Stores – Sales in Grocery were down in March>May from 2020 – No surprise, as these were 2020 binge months. In Jun>Nov they beat 2020 $. Health/Personal Care finished 2020 at +1.8% but 2021 has been better. November was down 2.7% from October but YTD $ are +9.4%% vs 2020 and +10.8% vs 2019.

  • YTD Avg Annual Growth: Grocery = +7.5%; Health/Drug Stores = +5.3%

Clothing and Accessories; Electronic & Appliances; Home Furnishings – March > Nov have been spectacular for all these channels. The increase in Clothing vs November 2020 was less than usual but was still +35.3%. All were up vs October and also remained positive in all measurements vs 2020 or 2019 for the 9th consecutive month.

  • YTD Avg Annual Growth: Clothing = +5.6%; Electronic/Appliance = +3.6%; Furniture = +10.1%

Building Material, Farm & Garden & Hardware – Their “Spring” lift which began in 2020 has slowed but they have greatly benefited from consumers focusing on their home needs. They finished 2020 +53B (+13.8%). Sales took off in March, set a record in April, but have since slowed and stabilized. They are still +13.4% YTD. Avg Annual Growth = +13.6%

Sporting Goods, Hobby and Book Stores – Book & Hobby stores are open but Sporting Goods stores have driven the lift in this group. Consumers turned their attention to personal recreation and sales in Sporting Goods outlets took off. The group ended 2020 +5.5% vs 2019. The growth accelerated in 2021 with a strong spike in November, up 15.8% from October to $10.2B, the 2nd biggest month ever. November YTD they are +29.9% vs 2020. Avg Annual Growth = +17.1%

All Miscellaneous Stores – Pet Stores were deemed essential but most other stores were not, so closures hit this group particularly hard. Sales hit bottom at -$3.8B in April then began to rebound. They finished with a strong December and ended 2020 -$1.0B, -0.7%. In March 2021 sales took off and reached the $14+B level in May. They have stayed there and set a record of $15.3B in October. Sales fell to $15.0B in November, but it is still #2 of all time. YTD sales are now +27.5% vs 2020 +26.9% vs 2019. Their recovery is very real. YTD Avg Annual Growth = +12.7% (4th Best)

NonStore Retailers – 90% of the volume of this group comes from Internet/Mail Order/TV. The pandemic accelerated the movement to online retail. In February 2020 NonStore $ were +8.6% YTD. In December monthly sales exceeded $100B for the 1st time. They ended 2020 at +21.4%, +$162.9B. This was 63% of the total $ increase for Relevant Retail Channels. Their 2020 performance beat the 12.9% increase in 2019 and every month in 2021 has produced record $. November was +19.9% vs October and set a new record of $105.4B. YTD $ are +14.4%. YTD Avg Annual Growth= +18.1%

Note: Almost without exception, online sales by brick ‘n mortar retailers are recorded with their regular store sales.

Recap – 2020 was quite a year. April & May had the 2 biggest year over year sales decreases in history while December sales broke $600B for the first time. 2021 may become even more memorable. November set a new $ record. Mar>Nov are 9 of the 10 biggest $ months in history with the 9 largest year over year sales increases ever. The total increase was +$1.05T, which is over 6 times the -$174B decrease from March>May 2020 which caused so much concern. At yearend 2020, Restaurants and Gas Stations were still struggling but Auto had largely recovered. Relevant retail had segments that also struggled but they still led the way for Total Spending to finish the year +0.5% vs 2019. 2021 has been even better. In Jun>Nov all major groups were positive vs both 2020 and 2019. The recovery has also become real for virtually all channels and monthly sales continue to set records. In fact, the current annual growth rates of +9.4% for Total retail and +10.5% for Relevant Retail are the best ever. Retail has recovered and continues to grow but we’ll keep checking.

Retail Channel Monthly $ Update – September Final & October Advance

In May 2020, the Retail market began its recovery after hitting bottom in April. The road back has been long and complex and Consumer spending behavior continues to evolve. We have not beaten the virus yet so we will continue to track the ongoing recovery of the retail marketplace with data from two reports provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Reports are the Monthly Retail Sales Report and the Advance Retail Sales Report. Both are derived from sales data gathered from retailers across the U.S. and are published monthly at the same time. The Advance Report has a smaller sample size so it can be published quickly – about 2 weeks after month end. The Monthly Final Report includes data from all respondents, so it takes longer to compile the data – about 6 weeks. Although the sample size for the Advance report is smaller, the results over the years have proven it to be statistically accurate with the final monthly reports. The biggest difference is that the full sample in the Final report allows us to “drill” a little deeper into the retail channels.

We will begin with the Final Retail Report for September and then move to the Advance Report for October. Remember, the retail impact of the pandemic began in March 2020, peaked in April, then recovery started in May. We will compare 2021 to both 2020 and 2019 to document the progress that the retail market has made towards a full recovery.

Both reports include the following:

  • Total Retail, Restaurants, Auto, Gas Stations and Relevant Retail (removing Restaurants, Auto and Gas)
  • Individual Channel Data – This will be more detailed in the “Final” reports and we fill focus on Pet Relevant Channels

The information will be presented in detailed charts to facilitate visual comparison between groups/channels of:

  • Current Month change – % & $ vs previous month
  • Current Month change – % & $ vs same month in 2020 and 2019
  • Current YTD change – % & $ vs 2020 and 2019
  • Monthly and Year To Date $ will also be shown for each group/channel

First, the September Final. Retail hit bottom in April 2020 but began recovery, hitting record $ in December. $ fell in January & February but set a new $ record in March. In April $ fell but rebounded in May to another record high. Sales have slowly declined through September. Here are the major retail groups. (All $ are Actual, Not Seasonally Adjusted)

The final total is $1.7B more than the Advance report projected a month ago. All groups but Relevant Retail were up slightly. The specifics were: Relevant Retail: -$0.3B; Gas Stations: +$1.0B; Auto: +$0.8B: Restaurants: +$0.3B. Sales vs August were down in all groups. As you recall, Total Retail $ales broke $600B for the 1st time in December. Although September $ were slightly below December, they were still the 8th highest of all time. Auto continues to have the strongest recovery with an annual YTD growth rate since 2019 of +11.8%. A spending dip in September is the “norm” in U.S. Retail. It is more important that for the 4th consecutive month, all groups were positive in all other measurements.

Now, let’s see how some Key Pet Relevant channels were doing in September.

  • Overall – 10 of 11 channels were down vs August but all were up vs September 2020 and September 2019. In YTD $, all were up vs 2020 and 10 vs 2019. September was the 9th biggest month in history for Relevant Retail.
  • Building Material Stores – Their amazing lift may finally be slowing. The surge came as a result of pandemic spending patterns developed in 2020. Consumers began focusing on their homes. Their Spring lift has slowed in 2021 but Building and Farm stores are still going strong. Sporting Goods stores have a similar spending pattern. Sales took off in May 2020, hit a record peak in December and continued strong into 2021, peaking in March. $ have slowed with a big drop in September, but YTD they are +47.7% vs 2019, an Annual Growth Rate of 21.5%!
  • Food & Drug – Supermarkets were +$77.7B in 2020. $ are down vs Aug. but YTD are on par with the 2020 binge. They are up 19.5% vs Sept. 2019 and 14.9% vs YTD 2019. Drug Stores were +$17B (+5.7%) for 2020. They had a record March. Sales have been stable since then, but all other measurements are positive and YTD $ are +7.6%.
  • General Merchandise Stores – $ in all channels fell in Jan & Feb then spiked in March. Monthly sales by channel have been slightly up or down since then but GM has been strong, +15% YTD. $ Stores & Clubs/SuperCtrs are leading the way with a combined annual growth rate of +8.8%. These channels promote value. Their success reinforces its importance to consumers. Disc. Dept. Strs $ fell 11.5%, but that’s much better than -19% in 2019.
  • Office, Gift & Souvenir Stores– $ fell from August but were +22.3% vs September 2020. The pandemic hit them hard. They are still down YTD vs 2019. Recovery is still a long way off, but their situation is improving.
  • Internet/Mail Order – Even their $ were down vs August but the pandemic continues to foster this channel’s growth. In September of 2019, their YTD growth was +14.1%. Now, their avg growth rate is +19.6% – up 39.0%
  • A/O Miscellaneous – This is a group of small to midsized specialty retailers – chains and independents. It includes Florists, Art Stores and Pet Stores (22>24% of total $). Pet Stores were usually essential, but most stores were not. In May 2020 they began their recovery. Their 2020 total sales were up +11.6%. September was their 3rd biggest month, and they had the only increase from August. YTD $ are +27.4% vs 2020 and +40.5% vs 2019.

Relevant Retail began recovery in May and set a $ record in December. $ fell in Jan & Feb, turned up again in March and began a monthly up/down rollercoaster. September $ are down but all but 1 channel are ahead of all 2020 & 2019 $. The key drivers are the Internet, SuperCtrs/Clubs/$ Stores and Hdwe/Farm. Now, the Advance numbers for October.

2020 was a memorable year for both its traumas and triumphs. In April & May we experienced the 2 biggest retail spending drops in history, but the problems actually began in March. Retail sales began to recover in June and in October, YTD Total Retail turned positive for the 1st time since February. In December, Total Retail broke the $600B barrier – a historic first. Sales fell from their December peak in both January and February but still set monthly sales records. Then they took off again in March, setting a new monthly sales record of $633B. April sales were down slightly but they took off again in May to set yet another spending record, $643.1B. June>Sept $ fell but then came back in October with the 3rd biggest $ month in history. All major groups were up from September and were positive in all other measurements for the 5th straight month. Some other areas of the economy are still suffering, some spending behavior has changed, and inflation has become a bigger factor in increases. However, consumers continue to spend “big bucks”, especially in Relevant Retail, and the overall Retail marketplace continues its strong recovery.

Total Retail – In March, Total Retail was $633.1B, a new record. In April, $ales dipped to $625.5B but were still $218.3B more than April 2020 – a record increase, more than double the size of last year’s record drop. In May, sales set another new record, $643.1B. June>Sept sales dipped slightly but stayed above $600B. October brought a resurgence with monthly sales of $634.6B, the 3rd biggest month in history. Moreover, the current YTD average annual sales growth rate since 2019 is 9.3%, the highest ever in records going back to 1992. INFLATION NOTE: Retail $ were +14.7% vs October 2020. Inflation was +6.2% so up to 42% of the lift came just from higher prices. The “Real” increase was +8.5%. In October 2019 (pre-pandemic) Retail $ were +3.7% over 2018. Inflation was 1.8%, 48% of the lift. This produced a “Real” increase of +1.9%. Long term, strong inflation can slow spending but right now, Retail is outperforming pre-COVID 2019.

Restaurants – This group has no negative measurements vs 2020 or 2019 for 5 straight months. February 2020 YTD sales were up 8.1% vs 2019. The Pandemic changed that. Restaurants started to close or cease in person dining in March and sales fell -$33.3B (-52.5%) compared to March 2019. Sales bottomed out in April at $30.1B, the lowest April sales since 2003. Sales started to slowly increase in May but never reached a level higher than 88% compared to the previous year. 2021 started off slowly. Through February, YTD sales were down -16.7% from pre-pandemic 2020 and -10.0% from 2019. In March sales took off and grew steadily from April through July. Sales dipped slightly in August/September but came back strong in October. YTD their $ are +30.4% vs 2020 and +5.0% vs 2019. Their recovery is getting stronger.

Auto (Motor Vehicle & Parts Dealers) – Staying home causes your car to be less of a focus in your life. Sales began to fall in March and hit bottom in April. Auto Dealers began combating this “stay at home” attitude with fantastic deals and a lot of advertising. It worked. They finished 2020 up 1% vs 2019 and have returned to a strong positive pattern in 2021. The “attitude” grew amazingly positive in March and has slowed only slightly from April>October as sales exceeded $123B in all 8 months – the 8 biggest months in history. To show the effectiveness of their campaign, just look at the data. This group has exceeded $110B in monthly sales only 17 times in history. 14 of those occurred after the onset of the pandemic.  YTD Avg Annual Growth Since 2019 = +11.6% – the best performance of any big group.

Gas Stations – Gas Station $ales have been a mixed bag. If you drive less, you visit the gas station less often. Sales turned down in March 2020 and reached their low point in April. They moved up but generally stayed about 15% below 2019 levels for the rest of 2020. In February they were still behind 2020 in monthly and YTD $ but ahead of 2019 in both measurements. In March, sales skyrocketed and continued to grow to to a record $53.5B in July. They fell in Aug/Sept but turned up in October. They have been positive in all measurements vs 2019 & 2020 since March. Their comeback continues but inflation comes to the forefront in this channel. Gas prices can be pretty volatile. They dipped in the first 2 months of the pandemic but then returned to more normal levels for the balance of 2020. They began strongly inflating in 2021. In fact, October 2021 prices were 49.6% above 2020. That means that the 45.3% year over year $ lift in October was actually a decrease in the amount of gas sold. YTD Annual Growth Rate Since 2019 = +6.0%

Relevant Retail – Less Auto, Gas and Restaurants – This is what we consider the “core” of U.S. retail and has traditionally accounted for about 60% of Total Retail Spending. In looking at the individual channels in this group, we have seen a variety of results due to many factors, like non-essential closures, binge buying, online shopping and a consumer focus on “home”. However, overall, April 2020 was the only month in which spending in this group was down vs 2019. Monthly $ales exceeded $400B for the first time ever in December. They finished 2020 up $260B, +7.1%. Their performance was the only reason that Total Retail was able to finish 2020 with positive numbers, +0.5%. Sales fell in January and February 2021 but set monthly records. In March they turned sharply up and then began an up/down $ roller coaster ride. In October they reached the 2nd highest amount on record. We should also note that while December 2020 is still #1, March>October are 8 of the 10 highest $ months of all time. Relevant Retail has exceeded $361B in monthly sales 10 times in history. 9 of those have occurred since the onset of the pandemic. It is also very important that the Relevant Retail group has posted positive numbers versus last year and YTD for every month since April 2020 and their average YTD growth rate since 2019 is +10.4%. The recovery has become widespread as all channels have been positive in all measurements vs both 2020 and 2019 for 3 consecutive months. However, the primary drivers throughout the pandemic were and continue to be Nonstore, Grocery, SuperCenters/Clubs/$ Stores plus an exceptionally long 2020 “spring lift” from Hardware/Farm and Sporting Goods.

Now let’s look at what is happening in the individual retail channels to see where the $ are coming from. October $ were up 5.0% from September and an increase occurred in all but one channel. Remember, the groups in the chart are less defined than in the Final Monthly reports and we will look across the whole market, not just pet relevant outlets.

Sales in 12 of 13 channels were up vs September but all were up vs October 2020, vs October 2019 and YTD vs 2020 and 2019. (Relevant Retail YTD Avg Annual Growth Rate since 2019 = +10.4%)

After hitting bottom in April 2020, Relevant Retail has now beaten the previous year’s $ for 18 consecutive months. The group set an all-time record of $407B in December and finished 2020 +$260B vs 2019. 2021 started strong, with record sales in every month. March > Oct. were 8 of the 10 biggest of all time. Essential channels are still the primary drivers:

  • Nonstore Retailers – The biggest driver. Online shopping continues to grow in # of households and in $.
  • Food & Beverage – Grocery– Restaurant $ are improving but consumers continue to eat & drink more at home.
  • Bldg Materials/Garden/Farm– Their “Spring” lift may be ending but consumers are still focused on their homes.
  • SuperCtrs/Club/Value/$ Strs – They kept the GM channel strongly positive. Value is still a big consumer priority.

Regarding the Individual Large Channels (Includes YTD Avg Annual Growth Rate since 2019)

General Merchandise Stores – Sales increased for all channels in October and all other numbers were also positive. Even Department Stores $ are growing increasingly positive. After dipping to +7.5% in February, the growth rate by Club/SuperCtr/$ stores held at about 8.8% and then moved up in October. These stores are still the key to this channel.

  • YTD Avg Annual Growth: All GM = +7.9%; Dept Stores = +1.9%; Club/SuprCtr/$ = +9.1%

Food and Beverage, plus Health & Personal Care Stores – Sales in Grocery were down in March>May from 2020 – No surprise, as these were 2020 binge months. In June>Oct they beat 2020 $. The Health, Personal Care group finished 2020 at +1.8% but 2021 has been better. October was up 1.6% from September but YTD they are +10% vs both 2020 & 2019.

  • YTD Avg Annual Growth: Grocery = +7.3%; Health/Drug Stores = +5.2%

Clothing and Accessories; Electronic & Appliances; Home Furnishings – March > Oct have been spectacular for all these channels. The increase in Clothing vs October 2020 was less than usual but was still +22.7%. Only Furniture was down vs September, but all groups remained positive in all measurements vs 2020 or 2019 for the 8th consecutive month.

  • YTD Avg Annual Growth: Clothing = +5.4%; Electronic/Appliance = +3.7%; Furniture = +10.0%

Building Material, Farm & Garden & Hardware – Their “Spring” lift which began in 2020 has slowed but they have greatly benefited from consumers focusing on their home needs. They finished 2020 +53B (+13.8%). Sales took off in March, set a record in April, but has since slowed and stabilized. They are still +13.6% YTD. Avg Annual Growth = +13.5%

Sporting Goods, Hobby and Book Stores – Book & Hobby stores are open but Sporting Goods stores have driven the lift in this group. Consumers turned their attention to personal recreation and sales in Sporting Goods outlets took off. The group ended 2020 +5.5% vs 2019. The growth accelerated in 2021. Sales grew 1% vs September, but it was still good enough for the 10th consecutive monthly record. October YTD they are +31.0% vs 2020. Avg Annual Growth = +17.1%

All Miscellaneous Stores – Pet Stores were deemed essential but most other stores were not, so closures hit this group particularly hard. Sales hit bottom at -$3.8B in April then began to rebound. They finished with a strong December and ended 2020 -$1.0B, -0.7%. In March 2021 sales took off and reached the $14+B level in May and they have stayed there. Sales grew 8.0% to $15.7B in October, which set a new all time $ record and broke the $15B barrier. YTD sales are now +28.1% vs 2020 +27.1% vs 2019. Their recovery has become very real. YTD Avg Annual Growth = +12.7% (4th Best)

NonStore Retailers – 90% of the volume of this group comes from Internet/Mail Order/TV. The pandemic accelerated the movement to online retail. In February 2020 NonStore $ were +8.6% YTD. In December monthly sales exceeded $100B for the 1st time. They ended 2020 at +21.4%, +$162.9B. This was 63% of the total $ increase for Relevant Retail Channels. Their 2020 performance far exceeded their 12.9% increase in 2019 and every month in 2021 has produced record $. October was +6.1% vs September and +7.4% vs 2020. YTD $ are +14.2%. YTD Avg Annual Growth = +17.6%

Note: Almost without exception, online sales by brick ‘n mortar retailers are recorded with their regular store sales.

Recap – 2020 was quite a year. April & May had the 2 biggest year over year sales decreases in history while December sales broke $600B for the first time. 2021 may become even more memorable. March>October are 8 of the 9 biggest $ales months in history with the 8 largest year over year monthly sales increases ever. The total increase was +$945B, which is over 5 times the -$174B decrease from March>May 2020 which caused so much concern. At yearend 2020, Restaurants and Gas Stations were still struggling but Auto had largely recovered. Relevant retail had segments that also struggled but they still led the way for Total Spending to finish the year +0.5% vs 2019. 2021 has been even better. In June > October all major groups are positive vs both 2020 and 2019. The recovery has also become real for virtually all channels and monthly sales continue to set records. In fact, the current annual growth rates of +9.3% for Total retail and +10.4% for Relevant Retail are the best in history. Retail has recovered and continues to grow but we’ll keep checking.

Retail Channel Monthly $ Update – August Final & September Advance

In May 2020, the Retail market began its recovery after hitting bottom in April. The road back has been long and complex and Consumer spending behavior continues to evolve. We have not beaten the virus yet so we will continue to track the ongoing recovery of the retail marketplace with data from two reports provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Reports are the Monthly Retail Sales Report and the Advance Retail Sales Report. Both are derived from sales data gathered from retailers across the U.S. and are published monthly at the same time. The Advance Report has a smaller sample size so it can be published quickly – about 2 weeks after month end. The Monthly Final Report includes data from all respondents, so it takes longer to compile the data – about 6 weeks. Although the sample size for the Advance report is smaller, the results over the years have proven it to be statistically accurate with the final monthly reports. The biggest difference is that the full sample in the Final report allows us to “drill” a little deeper into the retail channels.

We will begin with the Final Retail Report for August and then move to the Advance Report for September. Remember, the retail impact of the pandemic began in March 2020, peaked in April, then recovery started in May. We will compare 2021 to both 2020 and 2019 to document the progress that the retail market has made towards a full recovery.

Both reports include the following:

  • Total Retail, Restaurants, Auto, Gas Stations and Relevant Retail (removing Restaurants, Auto and Gas)
  • Individual Channel Data – This will be more detailed in the “Final” reports and we fill focus on Pet Relevant Channels

The information will be presented in detailed charts to facilitate visual comparison between groups/channels of:

  • Current Month change – % & $ vs previous month
  • Current Month change – % & $ vs same month in 2020 and 2019
  • Current YTD change – % & $ vs 2020 and 2019
  • Monthly and Year To Date $ will also be shown for each group/channel

First, the August Final. Retail hit bottom in April 2020 but began recovery, hitting record $ in December. $ fell in January & February but set a new all time $ record in March. In April $ fell but they rebounded in May to another record high. Sales have slowly declined through August. Here are the major retail groups. (All $ are Actual, Not Seasonally Adjusted)

The final total is $2.0B more than the Advance report projected a month ago. All groups were up slightly. The specifics were: Relevant Retail: +$0.7B; Gas Stations: +$0.6B; Auto: +$0.4B: Restaurants: +$0.3B. Sales vs July were down in all but Relevant Retail. Total Retail $ were the 8th highest month of all time. Total $ales broke $600B for the 1st time in December and has now done it 8 times. Auto still has the strongest recovery and is in fact prospering – annual YTD growth rate since 2019 is +11.9%. There were spending dips vs the previous month but for the third consecutive month, all groups were positive in all other measurements.

Now, let’s see how some Key Pet Relevant channels were doing in August.

  • Overall– 5 of 11 channels were down vs July but all were up vs August 2020 and 10 vs August 2019. In YTD $, all were up vs 2020 and 10 vs 2019. August was the 4th biggest month in history for Relevant Retail.
  • Building Material Stores – Their amazing lift may finally be slowing. The surge came as a result of pandemic spending patterns developed in 2020. Consumers began focusing on their homes. Their Spring lift has slowed in 2021 but Building and Farm stores are still going strong. Sporting Goods stores have a similar spending pattern. Sales took off in May 2020, hit a record peak in December and continued strong into 2021, peaking in March. After slowing in July, the $ increased in August. YTD they are +47.4% vs 2019, an Annual Growth Rate of 21.4%!
  • Food & Drug – Supermarkets were +$77.7B in 2020. $ are down vs July but YTD are on par with the 2020 binge. They are up 14% vs August 2019 and 14.3% vs YTD 2019. Drug Stores were +$17B (+5.7%) for 2020. They had a record March. Sales have been stable since then, but all other measurements are positive and YTD $ are +7.6%.
  • General Merchandise Stores – $ in all channels fell in Jan & Feb then spiked in March. Monthly sales by channel have been slightly up or down since then but GM has been strong, +14% YTD. $ Stores & Clubs/SuperCtrs are leading the way with a combined growth rate of +8.5%. These channels promote value. Their success reinforces its importance to consumers. Also, Discount Dept Stores are again back in the game.
  • Office, Gift & Souvenir Stores– $ increased slightly from July and were +20.5% vs August 2020. The pandemic hit them hard. They are still down vs 2019 – monthly and YTD. Recovery is a long way off, but things are improving.
  • Internet/Mail Order – Their $ were up vs July as the pandemic continues to foster this channel’s growth. In August of 2019, their YTD growth was +13.9%. Now, their avg growth rate is +19.6% – a 41.0% increase.
  • A/O Miscellaneous – This is a group of small to midsized specialty retailers – chains and independents. It includes Florists, Art Stores and Pet Stores (22>24% of total $). Pet Stores were usually essential, but most stores were not. In May 2020 they began their recovery. Their 2020 total sales were up +11.6%. Their August $ were down slightly from July but still #4 of all time. YTD sales are +27.5% vs 2020 and +39.3% vs 2019. Very strong!

Relevant Retail began recovery in May and reached a record level in December. $ fell in Jan & Feb, turned up again in March and began a monthly up/down rollercoaster. August $ are up and all channels but 1 are ahead of 2019 & 2020. The key drivers are the Internet, SuperCtrs/Clubs/$ Stores and Hdwe/Farm. Now, the Advance numbers for September.

2020 was a memorable year for both its traumas and triumphs. In April & May we experienced the 2 biggest retail spending drops in history, but the problems actually began in March. Retail sales began to recover in June and in October, YTD Total Retail turned positive for the 1st time since February. In December, Total Retail broke the $600B barrier – a historic first. Sales fell from their December peak in both January and February but still set monthly sales records. Then they took off again in March, setting a new monthly sales record of $633B. April sales were down slightly but they took off again in May to set yet another spending record, $643.1B. June>Sept $ fell but September was still the 8th biggest $ month in history. All major groups were down from August, but were positive in all other measurements for the fourth straight month. Some other areas of the economy are still suffering, some spending behavior has changed, and inflation has become a bigger factor in some increases. However, consumers continue to spend “big bucks”, especially in Relevant Retail, and the overall Retail marketplace continues its strong recovery.

Total Retail – In March, Total Retail hit $633.1B, a record for the most spending in any month in any year. In April, $ales dipped to $625.5B but were still $218.3B more than April 2020 – a record increase that was more than double the size of last year’s record drop. In May, sales set another new record, $643.1B. June>Sept sales dipped slightly and September was the 3rd smallest month this year, which is normal. However, at $606.8B, it was still the 8th biggest month in history. Moreover, the current YTD average annual sales growth rate since 2019 is 9.2%, the highest ever in records going back to 1992. Total Retail has not just recovered. It is stronger than ever.

Restaurants – This group has no negative measurements vs 2020 or 2019 for 4 straight months. Last February YTD sales were up 8.1% vs 2019. The Pandemic changed that. Restaurants started to close or cease in person dining in March and sales fell -$33.3B (-52.5%) compared to March 2019. Sales bottomed out in April at $30.1B, the lowest April sales since 2003. Sales started to slowly increase in May but never reached a level higher than 88% compared to the previous year. 2021 started off slowly. Through February, YTD sales were down -16.7% from pre-pandemic 2020 and -10.0% from 2019. In March sales took off and grew steadily from April Through July. Sales dipped slightly in August/September but were still strong vs 2019 & 2020. YTD their $ are plus 30.5% vs 2020 and +4.1% vs 2019. Their recovery is getting stronger.

Auto (Motor Vehicle & Parts Dealers) – Staying home causes your car to be less of a focus in your life. Sales began to fall in March and hit bottom in April. Auto Dealers began combating this “stay at home” attitude with fantastic deals and a lot of advertising. It worked. They finished 2020 up 1% vs 2019 and have returned to a strong positive pattern in 2021. The “attitude” grew amazingly positive in March and slowed only slightly in April>September as sales exceeded $122B in all 7 months – the 7 biggest months in history. To show how well consumers responded to their campaign you just need to look at the data. This group has exceeded $110B in monthly sales only 16 times in history. 13 of those occurred after the onset of the pandemic.  YTD Avg Annual Growth Since 2019 = +11.8% – the best performance of any big group.

Gas Stations – Gas Station $ales have been a mixed bag. If you drive less, you visit the gas station less often. Sales turned down in March 2020 and reached their low point in April. They moved up but generally stayed about 15% below 2019 levels for the rest of 2020. In February they were still behind 2020 in monthly and YTD $ but ahead of 2019 in both measurements. In March, sales skyrocketed and continued to grow to to a record $53.5B in July. They fell in Aug/Sept but are still +38% from 2020. They have been positive in all measurements vs 2019 & 2020 since March. Their comeback continues but there is another factor that must be considered – inflation. Gas prices can be pretty volatile. They dipped in the first 2 months of the pandemic but then returned to more normal levels for the balance of 2020. They began strongly inflating in 2021. In fact, September 2021 prices were 42.1% above 2020. That means that the 38.3% year over year $ lift in September was actually a decrease in the amount of gas sold. YTD Annual Growth Rate Since 2019 = +5.2%

Relevant Retail – Less Auto, Gas and Restaurants – This is what we consider the “core” of U.S. retail and has traditionally accounted for about 60% of Total Retail Spending. When you look at the individual channels in this group, you see a variety of results due to many factors – non-essential closures, binge buying, online shopping and a consumer focus on “home”. However, overall, April 2020 was the only month in which spending in this group was down vs 2019. Monthly $ales exceeded $400B for the first time ever in December ($407B). They finished 2020 up $260B, +7.1%. Their performance was the only reason that Total Retail was able to finish 2020 with positive numbers, +0.5%. Sales fell in January and February but set monthly records. In March they turned sharply up and then down in April. They bounced back in May then fell in June & July. In August sales rose again but fell in September. However, we should note that while December 2020 is still #1, March > September are 7 of the 9 highest $ months of all time. The Relevant Retail Market has exceeded $361B in monthly sales 9 tImes in history. 7 of those have occurred since the onset of the pandemic. It is also very important that the Relevant Retail group has posted positive numbers versus last year and YTD for every month since April 2020 and their average YTD growth rate since 2019 now stands at +10.4%. The recovery has become widespread as all channels have been positive in all measurements vs both 2020 and 2019 for 2 consecutive months. However, the primary drivers throughout the pandemic were and continue to be Nonstore, Grocery, SuperCenters/Clubs/$ Stores plus an exceptionally long 2020 “spring lift” from Hardware/Farm and Sporting Goods.

Now let’s look at what is happening in the individual retail channels to see where the $ are coming from. September $ were down 3.6% from August and the drop was widespread. However, a dip in September $ is normal and at -3.6% it was less than half of the -8% drop in 2019. The groups in the chart are less defined than in the Final Monthly reports and we will look across the whole market, not just pet relevant outlets.

Sales in 12 of 13 channels were down vs August but all were up vs September 2020, vs September 2019 and YTD vs 2020 and 2019. (Relevant Retail YTD Avg Annual Growth Rate since 2019 = +10.4%)

After hitting bottom in April 2020, Relevant Retail has now beaten the previous year’s $ for 17 consecutive months. The group set an all-time record of $407B in December and finished 2020 +$260B vs 2019. 2021 started strong, with record sales in every month. March > Sept. were 7 of the 9 biggest of all time. Essential channels are still the primary drivers:

  • Nonstore Retailers – The biggest driver. Online shopping continues to grow in # of households and in $.
  • Food & Beverage – Grocery– Restaurant $ are improving but consumers continue to eat & drink more at home.
  • Bldg Materials/Garden/Farm– Their “Spring” lift may be ending but consumers are still focused on their homes.
  • SuperCtrs/Club/Value/$ Strs – They kept the GM channel strongly positive. Value is still a big consumer priority.

Regarding the Individual Large Channels (Includes YTD Avg Annual Growth Rate since 2019)

General Merchandise Stores – Sales fell for all channels in September, but all other numbers were positive. Even Department Stores $ are growing increasingly positive. After dipping to +7.5% in February, the growth rate by Club/SuperCtr/$ stores has remained near the current 8.8%. These stores are still the key to this channel.

  • YTD Avg Annual Growth: All GM = +7.4%; Dept Stores = +1.2%; Club/SuprCtr/$ = +8.8%

Food and Beverage, plus Health & Personal Care Stores – Sales in Grocery were down in March>May from 2020 – No surprise, as these were 2020 binge months. In June>Sept they beat 2020 $. The Health, Personal Care group finished 2020 at +1.8% but 2021 has been better. September was down from August but YTD they are +10% vs 2020 and 2019.

  • YTD Avg Annual Growth: Grocery = +7.2%; Health/Drug Stores = +5.2%

Clothing and Accessories; Electronic & Appliances; Home Furnishings – March > Sept have been spectacular for all these channels. The increase in Clothing vs September 2020 was less than usual but was still +22.5%. Only Furniture was up vs August, but all remained positive in all measurements vs 2020 or 2019 for the 7th consecutive month.

  • YTD Avg Annual Growth: Clothing = +5.1%; Electronic/Appliance = +3.4%; Furniture = +10.3%

Building Material, Farm & Garden & Hardware – Their “Spring” lift which began in 2020 may be slowing. They have greatly benefited from consumers focusing on their home needs. They finished 2020 +53B (+13.8%). Sales took off in March, set a record in April then trended down May > Sept. They are still +14.4% YTD. Avg Annual Growth = +13.8%

Sporting Goods, Hobby and Book Stores – Book & Hobby stores are open but Sporting Goods stores have driven the lift in this group. Consumers turned their attention to personal recreation and sales in Sporting Goods outlets took off. The group ended 2020 +5.5% vs 2019. The growth accelerated in 2021. Even though $ fell 10% in September, it was still good enough for the 9th consecutive monthly record. September YTD they are +32.9% vs 2020. Avg Annual Growth = +17.1%

All Miscellaneous Stores – Pet Stores were deemed essential but most other stores were not, so closures hit this group particularly hard. Sales hit bottom at -$3.8B in April then began to rebound. They finished with a strong December and ended 2020 -$1.0B, -0.7%. In March 2021 sales took off and reached the $14+B level in May and they have stayed there. Sales fell -2.9% in September, but their YTD sales are now 27.8% above 2020 and 26.0% more than 2019. Their recovery has become very real. YTD Avg Annual Growth = +12.3% (4th Best)

NonStore Retailers – 90% of the volume of this group comes from Internet/Mail Order/TV. The pandemic accelerated the movement to online retail. In February 2020 NonStore $ were +8.6% YTD. In December monthly sales exceeded $100B for the 1st time. They ended 2020 at +21.4%, +$162.9B. This was 63% of the total $ increase for Relevant Retail Channels. Their 2020 performance far exceeded their 12.9% increase in 2019 and every month in 2021 has produced record $. September was -2.5% vs August but +10.6% vs 2020. YTD $ are +15.2%. YTD Avg Annual Growth = +17.9%

Note: Almost without exception, online sales by brick ‘n mortar retailers are recorded with their regular store sales.

Recap – 2020 was quite a year. April & May had the 2 biggest year over year sales decreases in history while December sales broke $600B for the first time. 2021 may become even more memorable. March>September are 7 of the 8 biggest $ales months in history with the 7 largest year over year monthly sales increases ever. The total increase was +$861B, which is 5 times the -$174B decrease from March>May 2020 which caused so much concern. At yearend 2020, Restaurants and Gas Stations were still struggling but Auto had largely recovered. Relevant retail had segments that also struggled but they still led the way for Total Spending to finish the year +0.5% vs 2019. 2021 has been even better. In June > September all major groups are positive vs both 2020 and 2019. The recovery has also become real for virtually all channels and monthly sales continue to set records. In fact, the current annual growth rates of +9.2% for Total retail and +10.4% for Relevant Retail are the highest in history. Retail has recovered but we’ll keep checking.