United States - Retail Sales

Retail sales disappointed in September on broad-based weakness. Sales fell 0.3% after rising an upwardly revised 0.6% in August. Sales fell 0.1% excluding vehicle dealers, which unexpectedly declined following an upwardly revised gain of 0.2% in August. Declines were widespread, led by department stores, vehicle dealers, and building supply stores, but also including gas stations and nonstore retailers among others. Among the few bright spots were apparel, drug and furniture stores. In September, sales were 4.1% above their year-ago level, down from August’s revised 4.4%. Core sales were up 4.5% from last year.





United States: Retail Sales

Mnemonic WRT.IUSA
Unit Mil. USD, CDASA
Adjustments Calendar Adjusted and Seasonally Adjusted
Monthly 0.1 %
Data Sep 2018 509,041
Aug 2018 508,514

Series Information

Source U.S. Census Bureau (BOC)
Release Advance Monthly Retail Trade Report
Frequency Monthly
Start Date 1/31/1965
End Date 9/30/2018

United States: Consumer

Reference Last Previous Units Frequency
Consumer Confidence Sep 2019 100.59 100.77 Index Long term avg=100, SA Monthly
Personal Income 2019 Q2 18,599,609 18,355,447 Mil. USD, SAAR Quarterly
Retail Sales Sep 2018 509,041 508,514 Mil. USD, CDASA Monthly

Retail Sales Definition

Retail sales include merchandise sold (for cash or credit at retail or wholesale) by establishments primarily engaged in retail trade. Services that are incidental to the sale of merchandise and excise taxes that are paid by the manufacturer or wholesaler and passed along to the retailer are also included. Sales are net after deductions for refunds and allowances for merchandise returned by customers. Consumer spending on services are excluded with two exceptions: First, restaurant sales are included. Second, services that are incidental to the sale of merchandise are included. Excise taxes that are paid by the manufacturer or wholesaler and passed along to the retailer, are also included. Sales are net deductions for refunds and allowances for merchandise returned by customers. Sales exclude sales taxes collected directly from the customer and paid directly to local, state or federal tax agencies. The monthly retail trade estimates are developed from samples representing all sizes of firms and kinds of businesses in retail trade throughout the nation. This survey is composed of a sample selected from the retail employers who made FICA payments. It is not uncommon for there to be a gap between unit auto sales and retail sales at automobile dealers. The reason for the discrepancy is retail sales includes some items not counted in unit sales, including used cars, boats, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, parts and repairs. Both retail and unit auto sales include fleet vehicle sales.

The estimates of sales measure the operations receipts rendered by stores that primarily sell at retail. The sales estimates represent total sales and receipts of all establishments primarily engaged in retail trade. They do not include sales at retail by manufacturers, wholesalers, service establishments, and others whose primary activity is other than retail trade. Since the retail establishment is the basic unit of measure, the published estimates of sales by type of retail store are not intended to measure the total sales for a given commodity or merchandise line.


Release Information

For the U.S., estimates of retail sales and inventories, by "kind of store" under NAICS. Monthly.

Sales include merchandise sold (for cash or credit at retail or wholesale) by establishments primarily engaged in retail trade. Services that are incidental to the sale of merchandise, and excise taxes that are paid by the manufacturer or wholesaler and passed along to the retailer, are also included. Sales are net after deductions for refunds and allowances for merchandise returned by customers. Sales exclude sales taxes collected directly from customer and paid directly to a local, state, or federal tax agency.

The U.S. Census Bureau measures retail activities using a suite of five surveys:

  • Advance Monthly Retail Trade Survey (MARTS)
  • Monthly Retail Trade Survey (MRTS)
  • Annual Retail Trade Survey (ARTS)
  • Quarterly E-Commerce Report
  • Economic Census of Retail Trade (every five years)

A mail-out/mail-back survey of about 12,000 retail businesses with paid employees selected for sales, including about 4,000 businesses also selected for inventories; supplemented by estimates for nonemployers, new employers, and missed employers obtained from benchmarking to the Annual Retail Trade Survey. The sample of retail firms is drawn from the Business Register which contains all Employer Identification Numbers (EINs) and listed establishment locations. Sales and inventories data are collected using one combined survey form. Firms selected for the retail sales survey are first stratified by major kind of business and estimated sales. All firms with sales above applicable size cutoffs are selected into the survey and report for all their retail industry EINs. In a second stage, unselected EINs are stratified by major kind of business and sales, and randomly selected from each strata. Approximately 3,000 of the 12,000 are selected with certainty. Some firms are also selected for inventories by stratifying most firms in the larger sales sample by kind of business and sales sizes. Approximately 1,000 of the 4,000 are selected with certainty. The sample is updated quarterly to reflect employer business "births" and "deaths"; adding new employer businesses identified in the Business and Professional Classification Survey and dropping firms and EINs when it is determined they are no longer active. There is about a 9 month delay before new firms can be represented in the sample.

Estimates are adjusted for seasonal variations and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes. Cumulative seasonally adjusted sales estimates are not tabulated.

Estimates are not adjusted for price changes (i.e., they are not inflation-adjusted or "real"). Retail and food services total and other subsector totals may include data for kinds of business not shown.

Dollar Values All dollar values presented are expressed in current dollars; that is, the estimates are not adjusted to a constant prior years, users also should consider price level changes.
Confidentiality Title 13 of the United States Code authorizes the Census Bureau to conduct censuses and surveys. Section 9 of the same Title requires that any information collected from the public under the authority of Title 13 be maintained as confidential. Section 214 of Title 13 and Sections 3559 and 3571 of Title 18 of the United States Code provide for the imposition of penalties of up to 5 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines for wrongful disclosure of confidential census information. In accordance with Title 13, no estimates are published that would disclose the operations of an individual firm. The Census Bureau’s Internal Disclosure Review board sets the confidentiality rules for all data releases. A checklist confidentiality of the data are considered and addressed.
Disclosure Limitation A disclosure of data occurs when an individual can use published statistical information to identify either an individual or firm that has provided information under a pledge of confidentiality. Disclosure limitation is the process used to protect the confidentiality of the survey data provided by an individual or firm. Using disclosure limitation procedures, the Census Bureau modifies or removes the characteristics that put confidential information at risk for disclosure. Although it may appear that a table shows information about a specific individual or business, the Census Bureau has taken steps to disguise or suppress the original data while making sure the results are still useful. The techniques used by the Census Bureau to protect confidentiality in tabulations vary, depending on the type of data.
Unpublished Estimates Additional statistics, such as dollar volume estimates for some kinds of business not separately shown in this report, are produced as a byproduct of the regularly published statistics. These additional estimates have not been included in this publication because high sampling variability, poor response, or other factors that may make them potentially misleading. Upon written request, for a nominal fee, the Census Bureau will release these estimates for individual use, though not for publication. It should be noted that some unpublished estimates can be derived directly from this report by subtracting published estimates from their respective totals. However, the estimates obtained by such subtraction would be subject to the poor response rates or high sampling variability described previously for unpublished kinds of business. Individuals who use estimates in this report to create new estimates should cite the Census Bureau as the source of only the original estimates.
Adjustment Factors The X-13 ARIMA program was used to derive the factors for adjusting data for seasonal variations and, in the case of sales, for trading-day and holiday differences. Unadjusted sales and inventory estimates were input to this program for the period January 1992 through February or March (if an advance sales estimate was computed) 2002. Seasonal adjustment of estimates is an approximation based on current and past experiences. Therefore, the adjustment could become less precise because of changes in economic conditions and other elements that introduce significant changes in seasonal, trading-day, and holiday patterns.
Sales Sales include merchandise sold (for cash or credit at retail or wholesale) by establishments primarily engaged in retail trade. Services that are incidental to the sale of merchandise, and excise taxes that are paid by the manufacturer or wholesaler and passed along to the retailer are also included. Sales are net after deductions for refunds and allowances for merchandise returned by customers. Sales exclude sales taxes collected directly from customers and paid directly to a local, state, or federal tax agency. The estimates of sales measure the operations receipts rendered by stores that primarily sell at retail. The sales estimates represent total sales and receipts of all establishments primarily engaged in retail trade. They do not include sales at retail by manufacturers, wholesalers, service establishments, and others whose primary activity is other than retail trade. Because the retail establishment is the basic unit of measure, the published estimates of sales by type of retail store are not intended to measure the total sales for a given commodity or merchandise line.
Inventories Merchandise inventories are the value of stocks of goods held for sale through retail stores. The inventories estimates represent the value, at cost, of the merchandise available for sale as of the last day of the report period. Methods of valuation may vary according to the accounting practices of each firm. The estimates provided in this report are valued on a non-LIFO (last in, first out) basis. Note—LIFO is a method of valuing inventory where the latest items of merchandise added to the inventory are the first ones taken out. Non-LIFO would mean that another method, such as FIFO (first in, first out), was used to establish the value of the inventory available for sale. Merchandise inventories are shown for stores and warehouses servicing retail establishments. Included are only those warehouses that maintained supplies of merchandise primarily intended for distribution to retail stores within the organization. Most firms reported the value of their inventories as of the close of the calendar year. Some firms, using a fiscal year rather than a calendar year for accounting purposes, valued their inventory as of some date other than the last day of the calendar year. About 26 percent of the retail inventory estimate from the Annual Retail Trade Survey was based on data reported on an end-of-fiscal year other than December 31. In the annual survey, inventories reported for a date in a month other than December were adjusted to a December 31 equivalent, based on ratios developed from the monthly inventory sample.
Inventories/Sales Ratios The inventories/sales ratios show the relationship of the end-of-month values of inventory to the monthly sales. These ratios can be looked at as indications of the number of months of inventory that are on hand in relation to the sales for a month. For example, a ratio of 2.5 would indicate that the retail stores have enough merchandise on hand to cover two and a half months of sales.
Purchases Purchases represent the total cost of merchandise that was purchased for resale during the year, whether or not payment for the merchandise was made during the year. Purchases data include cash and credit purchases made at central offices and company warehouses. The purchases, however, exclude deliveries from central offices or warehouses to retail stores owned by other companies. Those companies engaged in both manufacturing and retailing are asked to include purchases at the cost value of intercompany transfers from their plant or warehouses to their retail stores and to include the cost of outside purchases.
Cost of Goods Available for Sale and Cost of Goods Sold To calculate the cost of goods available for sale, the purchases made during the year were added to the preceding year’s end-of-year inventories. To calculate the cost of goods sold, the end of the current year’s value of inventories were deducted from the cost of goods available for sale.
Gross Margin The measure of gross margin represents total sales less cost of goods sold.
Accounts Receivable Balances Retail accounts receivable are amounts owed to retail stores by their customers for purchases made on credit. The estimate in this publication refer to receivables outstanding as of December 31, including receivables against which the firm has borrowed. However, credit paper discounted or sold to others and amounts actually charged off as bad debts are excluded. Also excluded are amounts charged on credit cards issued by oil companies, banks, and other organizations that issue credit cards. Charge accounts are credit accounts for which full payment is scheduled to be made at the end of the customary billing period. Installment accounts are classified as open-end or closed-end. Open-end installment accounts are primarily revolving or optional accounts. A deferred payment privilege is extended through a line of credit, and the customer has the option of paying the balance in full or paying in two or more installments. The payments are subject to a minimum required payment with a finance charge usually assessed. Closed-end installment accounts are those generally requiring a new contract to cover each extension of credit. A precomputed finance charge is assessed at the time credit is extended. Specified fixed schedules of installment payments are established with the number, the amount of payments, and the due dates specified in the contract.
Leased Department (L.D.) Leased departments are broadly defined as operations of one company conducted within the establishment of another company. Typical examples may include jewelry counters or optical centers within department stores.  (NAICS 4521)
GAFO GAFO represents sales at stores that sell merchandise normally sold in department stores. GAFO includes the following kinds of retail businesses:
  • General merchandise stores (NAICS 452)
  • Clothing and clothing accessories stores (NAICS 448)
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores (NAICS 442)
  • Electronics and appliance stores (NAICS 443)
  • Sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores (NAICS 451)
  • Office supplies, stationery, and gift stores (NAICS 4532)
  • Each month: Values are revised for the current year and prior year.
  • Each year: In April, values are revised to incorporate information from the Annual Survey of Retail Trade ("annual-to-monthly reconciliation").
  • Seasonal factors: Re-estimated at least once every five years.
  • Benchmarks: Comprehensive benchmark revisions take place every five years with the release of the Census of Retail Trade.
  • The sample for the Advance Survey is revised every 2.5 to 3 years. Estimates from different samples are comparable.
  • The sample for the Monthly Survey is revised every 5 to 7 years. Estimates from different samples are comparable.

Reasons for monthly revisions

There are several reasons for revisions. The main contributors to the revision from the previously published estimates are:

  • Timing. The respondents have more time to prepare their annual reports than they do for their monthly reports. The annual responses are requested at a time when many firms have already compiled audited book figures for their own use. The timing of the annual survey is such that we are also able to obtain independent verification of the reported data from such sources as a company’s annual report. On the other hand, respondents to the monthly survey have just a few weeks to provide reports of their sales and end-of-month inventories. Sometimes these reports are based on incomplete or unaudited records. These include estimates by the respondents to represent their understanding of their business.
  • Sampling. The annual sample is larger than the samples used to develop the estimates for any given month. As described in more detail in the technical documentation, the samples used to produce the sales estimates each month consist of certainty companies and noncertainty Employer Identification Numbers (EINs). The companies selected as certainty companies are those companies that had large sales in relation to other companies in their kind-of-business group. The initial selection of the noncertainty EINs was based on stratified random sampling, using annual sales as the measure of size, for those EINs not belonging to a certainty company. The selected noncertainty. EINs were assigned to one of two groups. The monthly sample canvasses one group of noncertainty EINs, while both groups of noncertainty EINs are canvassed in the annual sample. The sample used for the end-of-month inventory estimates is a subsample of the monthly sales sample. The monthly inventories sample is about one-third the size of the monthly sales sample. This, combined with the differences between the annual and monthly surveys mentioned above, often results in greater revision for the inventories estimates than for the sales estimates.
  • Response. The annual estimates are based on more reported data than are the monthly estimates. The response to the Annual Retail Trade Survey is required by law. This requirement results in a dollar volume response rate above 90 percent. The response to our monthly survey is not mandatory. The response rates for the monthly surveys are usually around 80 percent for sales and 72 percent for inventories. The sales and for by an imputation process. This process assumes that the firms not responding have trends similar to the responding firms in their respective kinds of business.

GAFO (series (X)RTGAF.IUSA) represents stores classified in the following NAICS codes: 442, 443, 448, 451, 452, and 4532. NAICS code 4532 includes office supplies, stationery, and gift stores.

Category "department stores" (series (X)RT4521.IUSA) includes data for leased departments ("L.D.") operated within department stores.  Data for this line not included in any aggregate kind-of-business totals.

With the introduction of a new sample with estimates for the September 2006 data month, Census identified a change in the seasonal pattern for estimates in Men's clothing stores (NAICS 44811). Consequently, they "temporarily" (at least through June 2010) suspended the release of seasonally adjusted estimates (RT44811.IUSA) for this industry. Because of the seasonal adjustment methodology, they also suppressed from publication all estimates back through the January 2001 data month for this industry. They continued to provide NSA estimates (XRT44811.IUSA), but advise they be used with caution, as the new sample estimates may not be comparable with estimates from the old sample.

On January 14, 2015, we changed the metadata unit-descriptor from "SA" to "CDASA" because the series are dual-adjusted: "adjusted for seasonal variations and holiday and trading-day differences" where the latter can be standardized to "calendar-day adjusted" (CDA).  (Sales and inventory/sale ratios are CDASA, but inventory figures are SA only.)