Retail Sales Plunge 16.4%, Lowest on Record

U.S. Census Bureau

Advance Estimates of U.S. Retail and Food Services Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for April 2020, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $403.9 billion, a decrease of 16.4 percent (±0.5 percent) from the previous month, and 21.6 percent (±0.7 percent) below April 2019. Total sales for the February 2020 through April 2020 period were down 7.7 percent (±0.5 percent) from the same period a year ago.

The February 2020 to March 2020 percent change was revised from down 8.4 percent (±0.4 percent) to down 8.3 percent (±0.3 percent).

Retail trade sales were down 15.1 percent (±0.4 percent) from March 2020, and 17.8 percent (±0.7 percent) below last year.

Clothing and clothing accessories stores were down 89.3 percent (±1.8 percent) from April 2019, while non store retailers were up 21.6 percent (±1.4 percent) from last year.

General Information

The May 2020 Advance Monthly Retail report is scheduled for release on June 16, 2020 at 8:30 a.m. EDT. View the full schedule in the Economic Briefing Room: The full text and tables of this release can be found at

Notice of Revision: Monthly retail sales estimates were revised on April 27, 2020 based on the results of the 2018 Annual Retail Trade Survey and the Service Annual Survey. The Annual Revision of Monthly Retail and Food Services showing revised estimates can be found on our website at /


The advance estimates are based on a subsample of the Census Bureau’s full retail and food services sample. A stratified random sampling method is used to select approximately 5,500 retail and food services firms whose sales are then weighted and benchmarked to represent the complete universe of over three million retail and food services firms.

Survey Description
The U.S. Census Bureau conducts the Advance Monthly Retail Trade and Food Services Survey to provide an early estimate of monthly sales by kind of business for retail and food service firms located in the United States. Each month, questionnaires are mailed to a probability sample of approximately 5,500 employer firms selected from the larger Monthly Retail Trade Survey.

Advance sales estimates are computed using a link relative estimator. For each detailed industry, we compute a ratio of current-to-previous month weighted sales using data from units for which we have obtained usable responses for both the current and previous month. For each detailed industry, the advance total sales estimates for the current month is computed by multiplying this ratio by the preliminary sales estimate for the previous month (derived from the larger MRTS) at the appropriate industry level. Total estimates for broader industries are computed as the sum of the detailed industry estimates. The link relative estimate is used because imputation is not performed for most nonrespondents in MARTS. For a limited number of nonresponding companies that have influential effects on the estimates, sales may be estimated based on historical performance of that company. The monthly estimates are benchmarked to the annual survey estimates from the Annual Retail Trade Survey once available. The estimates are adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading day differences.Additional information on MARTS and MRTS can be found on the Census Bureau website at:

Reliability of Estimates
Because the estimates presented in this report are based on a sample survey, they contain sampling error and nonsampling error.Sampling error is the difference between the estimate and the result that would be obtained from a complete enumeration of the sampling frame conducted under the same survey conditions. This error occurs because only a subset of the entire sampling frame is measured in a sample survey.Standard errors and coefficients of variation (CV), as given in Table 3 of this report,are estimated measures of sampling variation.
The margin of sampling error, as used on page 1, gives a range about the estimate which is a 90 percent confidence interval. If, for example, the percent change estimate is +1.2 percent and its estimated standard error is 0.9 percent, then the margin of sampling error is ±1.753 x 0.9 percent or ±1.6 percent, and the 90 percent confidence interval is –0.4 percent to +2.8 percent.If the interval contains 0, then one does not have sufficient evidence to conclude at the 90 percent confidence level that the change is different from zero and therefore the change is not statistically significant. Estimated changes shown in the text are statistically significant unless otherwise noted.For a monthly total, the median estimated coefficient of variation is given. The resulting confidence interval is the estimated value ±1.753 x CV x (the estimated monthly total).
The Census Bureau recommends that individuals using estimates in this report incorporate this information into their analyses, as sampling error could affect the conclusions drawn from the estimates.
Nonsampling error encompasses all other factors that contribute to the total error of a sample survey estimate. This type of error can occur because of nonresponse, insufficient coverage of the universe of retail businesses, mistakes in the recording and coding of data, and other errors of collection, response, coverage, or processing. Although nonsampling error is not measured directly, the Census Bureau employs quality control procedures throughout the process to minimize this type of error.

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