NPD: Consumer Discretionary Retail Spending Continues to Climb Against Pre-Pandemic Levels

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The stimulus is amplifying budding consumer trends as the U.S. enters stage 1 of retail’s repositioning

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“The stimulus is indeed stimulating consumer spending and bringing their emerging wants and needs to the surface as they begin to reengage in more in-person activities,” said Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry advisor, retail.

The U.S. is in a much different position than it was this time last year as it relates to the pandemic, and while discretionary retail sales are reflecting that, they also showcase the impact of the latest round of stimulus checks. Through March 2021, and into early April, weekly discretionary retail sales results have not only surpassed 2020 figures when the marketplace saw a steep drop in consumer spending at the start of the lockdown period, but also the same weeks in 2019 when COVID-19 wasn’t even part of our vocabulary. In the week ending April 3, 2021, NPD’s retail early indicator data shows a 39% increase compared to two years ago, and more than double that growth when comparing to last year.

“The double-digit dollar gains seen over the past four weeks compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019 reflect the strength and fortitude of the U.S. consumer and the continuation of their ‘here-and-now’ focus on spending,” said Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry advisor, retail. “The stimulus is indeed stimulating consumer spending and bringing their emerging wants and needs to the surface as they begin to reengage in more in-person activities – indicators retail needs to pay attention to as it readies for the coming months.”

Stimulus shifts:

  • When comparing to 2019, we still see growth occurring with the most recent stimulus rollout. This is the largest pre-pandemic dollar growth seen of any stimulus distribution to date.
  • While quarantine-driven needs continue to drive tech growth, apparel and footwear emerged in the top growth categories during the past three stimulus-related growth peaks, with sport lifestyle footwear, knit shirts or sweatshirts, and pants or shorts (depending on the season).

What do consumers plan to purchase in the next 60-90 days?*:

  • 48% plan to purchase Apparel
  • 36% plan to purchase Footwear
  • 30% plan to purchase Beauty products
  • 26% plan to purchase Home products (small appliances, housewares, etc.)
  • 24% plan to purchase Books
  • 15% plan to purchase Tickets to an Event(s) or Travel

Source: The NPD Group/Point-of-Sale Early Indicator Report, NPD Universe, WE April 3, 2021
*Source: The NPD Group / March 2021 Omnibus
(Discretionary retail includes the following industries: accessories, apparel, auto parts, beauty, consumer technology, DVD/Blu-ray, footwear, housewares, juvenile products, office supplies, small appliances, sports equipment, toys, video games)

For more information, or to speak with Marshal Cohen, contact Janine Marshall at janine.marshall@npd.com, and check NPD’s Now in Retail page and follow @NPDGroup on Twitter to see the latest insights across retail.

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