With the U.S. economy in a free fall from aggressive coronavirus containment policies, retail sales collapsed at a record pace in March. Underneath a headline that plunged by a worse-than-anticipated 8.7%, most major categories logged double-digit declines.
That is, with the exception of grocery stores, which have been deemed essential operations by state and local officials. Food store sales there skyrocketed by nearly 28% month-over-month, followed by a surge of 26% in February. Meanwhile, the broader food services category — which includes bars and restaurants — fell off the proverbial cliff at a nearly equivalent pace.
March’s retail figures put a spotlight on a broad shift that’s been underway since widespread stay-at-home orders have resulted in the shuttering of businesses and restaurants. The consumption-reliant U.S. economy, where consumer spending accounts for over 2/3 of economic activity, is seeing mass panic buying as consumers to shift to eating at home — generating dramatic changes in how people work, eat and live.