Economy Watch: Retail Sales Inch Up in November

November saw an increase of just 0.1 percent in U.S. retail and food services sales, with some retailers doing better than others.
Percent Change in Retail and Food Services Sales Source: U.S. Census Bureau, November 2016

Percent Change in Retail and Food Services Sales
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, November 2016

U.S. retail and food services sales saw an increase of 0.1 percent in November, according to the Census Bureau on Wednesday, and the September-to-October change was revised from up 0.8 percent to up 0.6 percent. Compared with a year ago, total retail sales were up 3.8 percent. The bureau adjusts its figures for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes.

As usual, some kinds of retailers did better than others, both for monthly and annual sales gains. For the month, food services and drinking places did the best, up 0.8 percent, while furniture stores—which have been seeing something of a mini-renaissance lately, after a number of tough years—enjoyed a 0.7 percent increase in sales for the month (and 4.1 percent for the year).

Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores suffered a drop of a full 1 percent in sales in November compared with October, and 1.4 percent down for the year. Another losing category for the month was car sales, down 0.5 percent, though up 3.3 percent for the year.

Compared with last year, health and personal care stores was a winning category, with sales up 6.2 percent. Most other categories of retailers managed to turn in higher annual sales for the year as well, though there were some exceptions. Department stores continued their downward spiral, with a loss of 6.4 percent in sales for the year, and the Internet continued to infringe on electronics stores, which experienced a drop of 3.8 percent in sales compared with last year.

Nonstore retailers, according to the bureau, continued their steady increase. Sales were up in that category for the month by only 0.1 percent, but 11.9 percent since this time last year.