Arkansas Retail Sales increased by 2.5% in June, remaining well above spending levels of a year earlier and well above pre-pandemic levels as well. Total Retail Trade and Food Service sales were up 13.0% from June 2020 and up 27.1% from the 2019:H2 average. The data for Arkansas continue to show a pattern similar to the U.S. Retail Sales data, albeit with larger net increases over the past 18 months. The U.S. data, published by the Census Bureau, showed a 0.9% increase in June. Compared to a year earlier, U.S. sales were up 18.7%—a larger increase than shown in the Arkansas data, reflecting relatively lower sales in June 2020. Compared to the second half of 2019, U.S. Retail Sales were up 20%.
Looking at the breakdown by industry groups, the one-month increase in sales was reflected in most components of the total, with slight declines registered at Motor Vehicle and Parts Dealers, Electronics and Appliance Stores, Food and Beverage Stores, and Health and Personal Care Stores. Substantial increases were registered in Nonstore Retailers (which includes online retailers) and in Furniture and Home Furnishing Stores.
Sales levels for Nonstore Retailers have skyrocketed during the pandemic as consumers turn toward online purchases as a substitute for shopping at ‘brick-and-mortar’ stores. During the second half of 2020, Arkansas purchases at nonstore retailers were running nearly 50% above pre-pandemic levels, and have surged to over 80% higher in recent months. The U.S. data show a surge of nearly 25% in late 2020, with recent sales running at a pace that is 38% higher than in the second half of 2019. (The sharp increase shown for Arkansas in July 2019 reflected the change in tax policy that required all out-of-state retailers to remit sales tax receipts, so it measures an increase in measured tax collections, rather than an actual increase in sales.)
Recent trends in the Furniture and Home Furnishings sector illustrate several key features of Arkansas Retail Sales growth: A sharp decline in the U.S. data measured over 50% during the recessionary trough month of April 2020, while the decline in Arkansas was only 20%. By late 2020, nationwide sales had recovered to approximately 6% above pre-pandemic levels and have surged to 21% above 2019:H2 over the most recent four months. The increases in Arkansas have persistently exceeded the U.S. averages, with sales in late 2020 up 13% and sales over the most recent four months up 38%. A sharp, but temporary decline in spending is evident in both the state and national data for February, reflecting the impact of unusually sever snowstorms that month.
Another sector that has been particularly hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic is Food Services and Drinking Places. Spending at bars and restaurants plummeted during the downturn of early 2020, falling by over 50% nationwide–but only by 23% in Arkansas. By the end of 2020, bar and restaurant sales had returned to pre-pandemic levels in Arkansas, while U.S. data continued to show weak sales until spring of 2021. In June, national bar and restaurant sales had recovered into positive territory (+8.4%), while sales in Arkansas sales surged to 18.3% above pre-pandemic levels.
County-Level Retail Sales
Month-to-month fluctuations in measured retail sales sometimes obscure the underlying trends, particularly as the geographic focus narrows to the county level. With data now in for the second quarter of 2021, we can take a look at smoothed quarterly trends. Our county-level data do not include gasoline (because there are no sales taxes on gasoline at the county level), and are not seasonally adjusted. Consequently, we’ll consider Total Retail Sales excluding Gasoline. From an index value of 100 in 2019:H2, this measure of total sales increased statewide by over 10% by the second half of 2020, and by the second quarter of 2021 had risen to about 28% above pre-pandemic levels (not seasonally adjusted).
The map below shows the growth rate of Retail Sales excluding Gasoline from 2019:H2 through 2020:Q2. The color-coding shows counties with growth rates below the statewide average in reddish hues and counties with growth rates above the statewide average in greenish hues. In all, 51 counties were above the statewide average and 24 counties below. However, the map shows that 35 counties show growth rates in the range of 24% to 32%—roughly equal to statewide growth (+/- 4 percentage points). Reds and greens are used to indicate growth rates of <24% and >32%, respectively.
Counties that have shown above-average growth tend to be clustered in the northern half of the state, particularly the north-central region. Below-average growth rates are more predominant in the southeast of the state. All 75 counties have higher retail sales in 2021:Q2 than pre-pandemic levels, with the growth rates ranging from +4.9% in Arkansas county to +56.7% in Fulton County.
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Documentation of Methodology is available here: Arkansas Retail Sales—A New Data Set from AEDI.
Data for Arkansas Retail and Food Service Sales for July 2017 through April 2021 are available in an Excel Spreadsheet: Arkansas-Retail-Sales-May-2020. The data set includes statewide aggregates and components, both seasonally adjusted and not-seasonally adjusted. County-level data for Total Retail and Food Service Sales excluding Gasoline are available on a not-seasonally adjusted basis.