U.S. Retail Sales Continue to Increase

According to the MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse survey, most U.S. retail industries continued to show solid gains in March 2011. Electronics sales and department store sales showed modest gains, while the luxury and e-commerce sectors recorded strong growth. Additionally, some segments of the restaurant sector also showed strength in March 2011, and the travel sectors, particularly airlines, saw improvement as well—although the growth in airline spending may be attributable in part to fuel surcharges.

Total apparel sales recorded its eighth consecutive year-over-year sales gains, increasing by 4.4 percent year-over-year. All but one of the apparel sub-sectors recorded year-over-year sales growth in March 2011. Children's wear remained above 10 percent, while the women’s category was in the 6 percent to 7 percent range. The only sub-sector that posted a loss was footwear, with sales declining 1.6 percent. The Easter calendar shift may have limited the year-over-year growth in the men’s and women’s apparel segments.

Furniture sales posted a modest increase of 2.4 percent, its fifth consecutive month of positive growth. Year-over-year sales in March 2011 are still 8 percent to 9 percent below the March 2008 level, and more than 15 percent below the sales recorded in March 2006 and 2007, at the peak of the housing boom.

E-commerce sales continued to grow in double digits, highlighting the continued strength in online sales. The sector posted its fifth consecutive month of double-digit growth, rising by 16.1 percent, higher than the 13.2 percent increase in February 2011. Online total apparel sales increased by 18.7 percent, marking the 16th straight double-digit increase. The sub-categories of apparel also grew robustly, as did department store sales at 8.4 percent and electronics sales at 14 percent.

The SpendingPulse Luxury Index, which measures sales at high-end restaurants, food stores, department stores and general apparel categories, increased 8.5 percent, the largest year-over-year increase since December 2010, and the sixth consecutive month of growth.