Despite recent supply-chain issues and rising prices, shoppers kept right on spending last month.
Retail spending took a surprise leap in September, up 0.7% from August to $625.4 billion, according to the latest numbers the Commerce Department released on Friday. The boost in spending surprised many analysts. A Bloomberg survey of economists had predicted a 0.2% dip in spending. The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 1.09% on the news.
Some of the biggest sales increases were in apparel (up 22.5%) and in sales of books, music, and sporting goods (collectively up 3.7%) as many students returned to campuses and employees returned to in-person work. Auto sales have increased by 0.5% despite semiconductor shortages that have plagued the industry.
Because of the Delta variant, travel sales are still far off from what they were pre-pandemic, but what would have been spent on air travel, consumers are using for leisure closer to home, says Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData. “Early on, the focus was on upgrading homes, and while this is still the case, now a greater emphasis is being placed on personal indulgences in the form of apparel, beauty, and accessories,” he said in a statement. “This is aided by the fact people are socializing and leaving their homes more than they did last year.”
Some of recent increase in retail sales can be attributed to a rise in prices. Prices jumped 0.4% in September, compared to the previous month—and were up 5.4% from a year ago, representing a 13-year high. Prices were up across the board, with big increases for gasoline (42.1%) and meat (10.5%).
While steadily rising inflation hasn’t yet made a dent in retail sales, Saunders had a note of caution: “This is not yet at a level where it is dissuading consumers from buying, but a cold winter, along with very elevated prices for electricity and heating oil and gas, could erode consumer spending power.”
Retailers also appear nervous that the worker shortage, supply-chain issues, and shipping bottlenecks could put a damper on holiday spending. Companies like Amazon and Target are trying to get customers to do their holiday shopping in October this year.
Correction, October 15: A previous version of this article misstated the jump in stocks.
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