US online retail sales up 62% YoY in January

US consumers enter 2021 with strong spending, pushing total retail sales up to 9.2%, with e-commerce leading the way

This January, US retail sales excluding automotive and gasoline increased 9.2% year-over-year, with online sales growing 62.1% compared to 2020.

The momentum of a strong holiday season continued throughout the month, with consumer spending buoyed by an infusion of stimulus payments, particularly in the first two weeks of the year. Retail gains across nearly all sectors and all 50 US states was clearly displayed according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment.

Spending in and around the home remains a top consumer priority, with furniture and furnishings posting its eighth straight month of solid gains, at a +16.6% year-over-year growth rate. Home categories have seen some of the biggest lifts following stimulus payments.

Consumers also seem to be focussing on investing in their wardrobes again, after months of working and schooling from home, with Speciality Apparel online sales up 52.5% in January. The sector is still down (-4.3%), but this is the smallest year-over-year decline experienced since the pandemic began and sales were impacted in March 2020. Department stores also experienced their first year-over-year increase in sales since 2019 (+1.5%), boosted by online sales (+27.9%).

The overall retail story was largely positive, with growth through January in all 50 states. States in the southeast and the west are driving the largest increases of total retail sales, due in part to outdoor options available in the warmer southern states and online sales growth in the western states. E-commerce has been the critical driver of sales growth across the country. As an example – in California, online sales grew 77.4%, lifting retail sales overall to 7.9%

"We’re living in a digital world. For consumers, e-commerce has emerged as a lifeline and a lifestyle. January’s numbers are just further proof of this ongoing trend,” said Steve Sadove, Mastercard senior advisor and former CEO of Saks, Inc. “A big, bright note from January is that consumers are spending. While we know that consumers are also saving their stimulus funds and paying down debt, these numbers show that stimulus is helping to boost sales for retailers around the country."

Gasoline sales were another story – no sector has been a clearer bellwether of consumers’ mobility this past year, and the sector has experienced a negative year-over-year growth since mid-March 2020. While the declines eased over the summer months, Covid-19 restrictions as well as winter weather led to a further deterioration in gasoline demand in January. 

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