Monthly Retail Trade Survey Overview




To provide current estimates of sales at retail  and food service stores and inventories held by retail stores. The United States Code, Title 13, authorizes this survey and provides for voluntary responses.


Companies with one or more establishments that sell merchandise and related services to final consumers.


Retail firms provide data on dollar value of retail sales and sales for selected establishments; some firms also provide data on value of end-of-month inventories.


Monthly since 1951; A new sample is chosen approximately every 5 years; most recently for 2001.


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in the Business and Professional Classification Survey and dropping firms and EINs when it is determined they are no longer active.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.


Monthly Retail Trade, Sales and Inventories reports are released 6 weeks after the close of the reference month. They contain preliminary figures for the current month and final figures for the prior 12 months. Statistics include retail sales, inventories, and ratios of inventories-to-sales. Data are both seasonally adjusted and unadjusted.

The Annual Benchmark Report  for Monthly Retail Trade and Food Services  is released annually each spring. This report includes revised and benchmarked monthly estimates of sales and inventories; monthly data for the most recent 10 years; and detailed annual estimates and ratios for the U.S. by kind of business.


These data are widely used throughout government, academic, and business communities. The Bureau of Economic Analysis uses the estimates to calculate Gross Domestic Product. The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses the estimates to develop consumer price indexes and productivity measurements. The Council of Economic Advisers uses the estimates to analyze current economic activity. The Federal Reserve Board uses the estimates to assess recent trends in consumer purchases. The media use the estimates to report news of recent consumer activity. Financial and investment companies use the estimates to measure recent economic trends.

Special Features

Contributes to two designated principal economic indicators. This survey is an integral component of the Advance Monthly Retail Sales Survey and the Manufacturing and Trade Inventories and Sales Report.

Monthly Retail Surveys Branch, U.S. Census Bureau | Last Revised: April 19, 2002