NEW YORK – Retail sales fell for a third straight month as a surge in virus cases kept people away from stores during the critical holiday shopping season.
The report released Friday is yet another sign that the pandemic is slowing the U.S. economy. Last month, the country lost jobs for the first time since the spring. And government numbers out this week reported a spike in weekly unemployment claims, indicating that rising infections are forcing businesses to cut back and lay off workers.
The U.S. Commerce Department said retail sales fell a seasonally adjusted 0.7% in December from the month before. They also fell in October and November, even though many retailers tried to get people shopping early for their Christmas gifts by offering deals before Halloween.
Some retailers have already indicated that they had an unhappy holiday season. Department store chain Nordstrom, lingerie seller Victoria’s Secret and clothing retailer Urban Outfitters all said sales fell during the holidays.
The Commerce Department said shoppers cut back on spending at electronic and department stores. Sales even fell online, down nearly 6% after rising 19% for the year.
At clothing stores, sales rose 2.4% after dropping 16% for the year. But the biggest increase was at gas stations, likely because people took road trips during the holidays, helping sales rise 6.6% after falling 12% for the year.
Friday's report covers only about a third of overall consumer spending. Services such as haircuts and hotel stays, which have been badly hurt by the pandemic, are not included.