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Monthly & Annual Retail Trade

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About the Advance Monthly Retail Trade Survey

Purpose: To provide an early indication of sales of retail and food service companies. The United States Code, Title 13, authorizes this survey and provides for voluntary responses.

Coverage: Retail and food service companies with one or more establishments that sell merchandise and associated services to final consumers (NAICS Sector 44-45 & Sector 72, subsector 722). During 2012, monthly retail and food service sales ranged from $358 billion to $469 billion.

Content: Companies provide data on dollar value of sales, reporting period, and number of retail establishments.

Frequency: Monthly since 1953; except for February 1970 to February 1972. Reported data are for activity taking place during the previous month. Forms are mailed 5 working days before the end of the reporting month and responses are due 2 working days after the reporting month. Smaller and medium sized retailers participate in the survey for about two years and then are replaced with new firms.

Methods: A mail-out/mail-back survey of a sub-sample of companies and Employer Identification Numbers (EINs) selected from the monthly retail trade survey. The advance survey sample of about 4,900 firms is selected by stratifying the companies in the larger monthly sample by sales size and major kind-of-business and selecting the desired number of cases randomly from each stratum. Some 1,500 firms, because of their relatively large effect on the sales of certain industry groups, are selected with certainty.

Advance sales estimates for each kind of business are developed by applying a ratio of current-month to previous-month sales (derived from the advance retail and food service sample) to the preliminary estimate of sales for the previous month (from the larger monthly sample). Industry estimates are summed to derive total retail sales figures. Data are seasonally adjusted. Publication of the advance report was suspended in the 1970's because of unsatisfactory relationships between the advance and later monthly estimates, and was resumed after modification of the estimating procedure. Numerous improvements to the estimation procedure have been made since then and the average absolute revision to the advance estimate is now two-tenths of one percent.

Products: Advance Monthly Retail Sales reports are released about 9 working days after the close of the reference month. They contain the advance estimates for the reporting month and preliminary sales data for the previous month by major kind-of-business group. Data presented are both seasonally adjusted and unadjusted.

Uses: This economic indicator is widely used and closely watched throughout government, academic, and business communities. The Bureau of Economic Analysis uses the estimates as an input for estimating Gross Domestic Product. The Federal Reserve Board uses the estimates to anticipate economic trends. The Council of Economic Advisors uses the estimates for economic policy analysis.

The news media report on this indicator regularly and use the estimates for economic analysis. Financial analysts and market research firms use the data to analyze market trends as well as to determine the direction of the economy. Businesses use the estimates to measure how they are performing and predict future demand for their products.

Special Features: Provides a designated principal economic indicator and the earliest available monthly estimates of broad based retail trade activity.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Monthly & Annual Retail Trade | (301) 763-2713 |  Last Revised: June 28, 2015