Following an unprecedented plunge in April and a sharp rebound in May and June, U.S. retail sales continued to recover from the historic slump brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in the third quarter. According to advance estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau, total retail and food services sales amounted to $549.3 billion last month, up 1.9 percent from revised August sales and 5.4 percent from last year's September total. The latest increase puts retail sales back on its pre-pandemic trajectory, even though it has to be noted that some retailers are still far off last year's sales levels.
Due to the widespread lockdown instated to contain the spread of COVID-19, retail sales had plunged 14.7 percent in April, following an already unprecedented 8.2 percent drop in March. To put this in perspective, the highest drop prior to March 2020 had occurred in November 2008, when retail sales declined by less than 4 percent at the height of the financial crisis. As the following chart shows, retail sales have very rarely dipped significantly in the past, with the financial crisis being the most notable exception of the past three decades.