U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Skip Header

Census Bureau Statistics Show Change in Retail Sales Year to Year, Season to Season

Written by:

Whether shopping for big-ticket items like houses, cars, appliances and furniture or for birthdays, Mother’s Day or holiday presents, Census Bureau statistics are the gifts that keep on giving.

Of course, the biggest shopping season is during the holidays. What’s the next biggest? Back-to-school, according to the National Retail Federation.

The Census Bureau has retail trade statistics for all seasons, by quarter, year, month and even by week.

The Census Bureau has retail trade statistics for all seasons, by quarter, year, month and even by week. Annual numbers do not cover sales during the pandemic.

Annual Statistics

For a big picture, let’s look at the Annual Retail Trade Survey (ARTS) from 1998 to 2018. This shows retail sales by North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).


Note: The table above is modified from the full table to hide intervening years (1999-2007 and 2009-2017) and all the notes at the bottom.


From 1998 to 2018, total U.S. retail trade sales grew from $2,581.8 billion to $5,269.5 billion and the share of e-commerce soared from $5.0 billion to $519.6 billion.

The 2019 ARTS will be released during the first quarter of 2021.

Quarterly Statistics

The recently released Quarterly Financial Report (QFR) for the third quarter of 2020, shows recent sales and net income after tax for U.S. Retail Trade Corporations, assets $50 million and over.


Note: The table above is from the last page of Release Number: CB20-188 and is modified to hide all the notes at the bottom.


Quarterly retail e-commerce sales show estimated sales for the third quarter of 2020 were $209.5 billion, down 1.0% from the second quarter. Sales are adjusted for seasonal variation but not for price changes.

We’ll know more about holiday sales when preliminary estimates for the fourth quarter and revised estimates for the third quarter are released Feb. 19, 2021.

Monthly Statistics

What if you want retail sales month to month? The Advance Monthly Retail Trade Survey (MARTS) and Monthly Retail Trade Survey (MRTS) provide these estimates by types of business from clothing and electronics to food and beverage.


Note: The table above is modified from the full table to hide all rows showing 4- and 5-digit NAICS codes and all the notes at the bottom.


For this story, advance monthly sales for retail and food services are through November 2020, not adjusted. Table 1 compares the 11-month (January - November) totals for 2020 to the same 11 months in 2019, by percentage change.

Growing sectors include:

  • Building materials, garden equipment and supplies dealers, up 13.4% (NAICS 444).
  • Food and beverage stores, up 11.6% (NAICS 445).
  • Nonstore retailers, up 22.6% (NAICS 454).

Declining sectors include:

  • Gasoline stations, down 16.4% (NAICS 447).
  • Clothing and clothing accessories stores, down 28.5% (NAICS 448).
  • Food services and drinking places, down 19.4% (NAICS 772).

The December 2020 Advance Monthly Retail report is scheduled to be released on Jan. 15, 2021, at 8:30 a.m. EST. View the full schedule in the Economic Indicators Briefing Room.

Monthly data are also available at the state level, thanks to our new experimental data product, Monthly State Retail Sales (MSRS). This is a blended data product that uses Monthly Retail Trade Survey, administrative and third-party data.

Year-over-year percentage changes are also available for total retail sales excluding Nonstore Retailers and 11 NAICS retail subsectors, beginning with January 2019.

Weekly Statistics

Weekly data releases for retail trade are now coming from the Small Business Pulse Survey, an experimental data product that tracks the impact of the pandemic on small businesses. We began releasing Phase 3 results weekly Nov. 19 and will continue through Jan. 14, 2021.

We even have weekly data on early-stage business applications at the national, regional and state level from another experimental data product, Business Formation Statistics (BFS).

BFS use data from the Internal Revenue Service's Employer Identification Number Applications (Form SS-4) to create a time series on the number of business applications filed, by industry sectors and sub-sectors. Data are provided for each week in 2019 and 2020.

More Shopping-Related Statistics

To learn about consumers in the United States, check out the Consumer Expenditure Survey, which the Census Bureau conducts for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The survey, conducted since 1980, provides data on expenditures, income and demographic characteristics of consumers in the United States. The data are used for calculating the Consumer Price Index (CPI), our nation’s most important measure of inflation.

From the Census Bureau Newsroom, Stats for Stories (SFS) links you to newsworthy and timely stats about current events, observances, holidays and anniversaries. This past year, we released numerous SFS related to shopping:


Derick Moore is senior communications specialist at the Census Bureau.


This article was filed under:

Page Last Revised - December 16, 2021
Is this page helpful?
Thumbs Up Image Yes Thumbs Down Image No
255 characters maximum 255 characters maximum reached
Thank you for your feedback.
Comments or suggestions?


Back to Header