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U.S. retail sales increase for fourth straight month, feds

The economy continues to show signs of coming recovery, though growth has slowed a little since July

A sign in the window of an Atlanta store.
TAMI CHAPPELL/AFP via Getty Images
Updated: September 16, 2020 - 3:16pm

Americans continued to spend during August as they have throughout most of the pandemic, though at a slightly slower pace last month as federal $600-a-week, enhanced unemployment benefits expired, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. 

Retail sales rose 0.6% last month, marking the fourth consecutive month of growth, according to department numbers. Consumer spending comprises about two-thirds of total U.S. economic activity and is generally a good indicator of the nation's economic well-being. 

August's figures were aided by increased spending at restaurants and bars, which have only recently begun reopening. Sales were up in the dining industry by 4.7%, but remain down 15.4% for the year. 

Overall retail sales had similar numbers after plummeting in April when malls and boutiques were forced to close as the coronavirus spread. Several well-known former industry giants, including Century 21, Lord & Taylor, Brooks Brothers and the long-suffering J.Crew have sought bankruptcy protection or gone out of business permanently. 

Clothing sales in general rose in August by 3%, and online retailers have continued to see a significant increase in buying. Target and Walmart, two stores that adjusted their models early in the pandemic to accommodate a desire to buy online, have seen their sales soar. sales have also skyrocketed. 

Sales of electronic devices climbed 0.8%, as many Americans adjust to the new normal of working or learning from home. Ikea also reports that the demand for desks, chairs and office cabinets has been so great these past months that it has consistently been sold out in popular models. 

Online sales numbers last month stayed consistent with July's, and are up 22% for the year. Supermarket sales were slightly down following increases during the first several months of the pandemic, when consumers worried about the ongoing availability of food supplies.