Total US retail sales for February increased by 0.1% month over month, reaching $474 billion. The increase was in line with economists’ consensus estimate, but was the smallest month-over-month gain in six months. Total retail sales excluding autos edged up 0.2% month over month, beating the consensus estimate of 0.1%. The January total retail sales number was revised up to 0.6% from the previously reported 0.4%.
On a year-over-year basis in February, both total retail sales and retail sales excluding autos increased by 5.7%.
Delayed tax refunds might have resulted in shoppers holding back from making purchases in February, according to Gus Faucher, Deputy Chief Economist at PNC Financial Services. A change in IRS requirements meant that the agency had to hold refunds until mid-February, a significantly later date than in past years.
Only four out of 13 major store categories posted positive sales results compared with January: furniture stores, building and garden materials dealers, health and personal care stores, and nonstore retailers.
Electronics and appliance store sales decreased by 2.8% from the previous month and decreased by 6% year over year, which was the most significant decline since 2011. Apparel stores posted a 0.5% month-over-month sales decline.
Shoppers continued to shift their spending online in February, and e-commerce continued its recent trend of double-digit growth. Sales at nonstore retailers, which are mostly online retailers and catalog and infomercial vendors, rose by 13% year over year in February, following a 12% year-over-year increase in January.
All in-store metrics were negative in February, except for the conversion rate, which rose slightly, by 0.3%. In-store sales and store traffic fell by 13.8% and 12.8%, respectively. In-store traffic posted the second-biggest decline in six months. In addition, the number of transactions was down 12.4% in February.
The second month of 2017 was the warmest February in 55 years and saw the least snowfall since 2012. The majority of the US was drier year over year and most of the Northeast, South and Midwest experienced drier weather trends.
All regions posted traffic declines and significant sales decreases for the month. The South experienced the biggest year-over-year sales and traffic declines of all regions, with sales falling 17.9% and traffic falling 18.8% during the month.