February Retail Sales Numbers Deliver Mixed Signals for Economic Recovery, Growth

Target Game Department
A Target Game Department | Source: Target Corp.

Depending on the headlines and the data source, U.S. retail sales for February have been presented as both a fine example of year-over-year growth and one of the biggest month-over-month declines in recent history. In reality, February results are both and will probably mean little in the long haul to the overall economic recovery in the U.S. or to the toy industry.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), U.S. retail sales were up 7.1% over last year, but down 3.4% over January. Similarly, the U.S. Census Bureau — which uses different tracking methodology — said that U.S. retail sales fell 3% over January, but still spiked 6.3% over last year. While the 3%+ drop from January has been cited as one of the five biggest month-over-month declines since the ’90s, the NRF notes that the U.S. has seen year-over-year growth every month since last June.

“February’s retail sales numbers are a minor speed bump on the road to post-pandemic recovery and are not a reflection of consumers’ willingness and ability to spend and drive the economy,” says NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “A number of factors contributed to these results, including major snowstorms in the northeast and unprecedented ice storms in the south, but they do not diminish the stimulus-related growth we saw in January or what we expect to see as additional stimulus relief hits consumer bank accounts in the weeks ahead. Looking forward to the spring and with consumer confidence at its highest level since last March, we remain optimistic that retail will help facilitate a surge in spending, job growth and capital investment in the second half of the year as more Americans are vaccinated and local economies reopen nationwide.”

Related: The U.S. Toy Industry Hits Record Sales Despite Pandemic

The current round of economic stimulus payments is currently hitting U.S. consumers’ bank accounts and mailboxes. While year-to-date toy industry sales are not yet available, sources have told the Toy Book that foot traffic is brisk as kids have started to rejoin parents on shopping trips in recent months. The U.S. video game industry continues to boom and overall toy and game sales are expected to remain high, though the industry will start to face some tough comps in the months ahead as we up against the categories that spiked amid the pandemic last year to drive the overall 16% growth for the U.S. toy industry.

The NRF believes that overall retail sales in the U.S. will spike between 6.5% and 8.2% in 2021.

About the author

James Zahn

James Zahn

James Zahn, AKA The Rock Father, is Editor-in-Chief of The Toy Book, a Senior Editor at The Toy Insider and The Pop Insider, and Editor of The Toy Report, The Toy Book‘s weekly industry newsletter. As a pop culture and toy industry expert, Zahn has appeared as a panelist and guest at events including Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) Wizard World Chicago, and the ASTRA Marketplace & Academy. Zahn has more than 30 years of experience in the entertainment, retail, and publishing industries, and is frequently called upon to offer expert commentary for publications such as Forbes, Marketwatch, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, Reuters, the Washington Post, and more. James has appeared on History Channel’s Modern Marvels, was interviewed by Larry King and Anderson Cooper, and has been seen on Yahoo! Finance, CNN, CNBC, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, CBS, WGN, The CW, and more. Zahn joined the Adventure Media & Events family in 2016, initially serving as a member of the Parent Advisory Board after penning articles for the Netflix Stream Team, Fandango Family, PBS KIDS, Sprout Parents (now Universal Kids), PopSugar, and Chicago Parent. He eventually joined the company full time as a Senior Editor and moved up the ranks to Deputy Editor and Editor-in-Chief.