US retail sales tumbled by a record 16.4% from March to April as business shutdowns caused by Covid-19 kept shoppers away, threatened stores across the country and weighed down a sinking economy.
The Commerce Department’s report on retail purchases showed a sector that has collapsed so quickly that sales over the past 12 months are down a crippling 21.6%.
The sharpest drops from March to April were at clothiers, electronics stores, furniture stores and restaurants.
A long-standing migration of consumers toward online purchases is accelerating, with that segment posting a 8.4% monthly gain.
Measured year over year, online sales surged 21.6%.
“It’s like a hurricane came and levelled the entire economy, and now we’re trying to get it back up and running,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief US economist for the consultancy Maria Fiorini Ramirez.
Mr Shapiro suggested that retail sales should rebound somewhat as states and localities reopen their economies.
But he said overall sales would remain depressed “because there is going to be a big chunk of the lost jobs that don’t come back”.