May 15 (UPI) -- Retail sales in the United States saw a record decline of 16.4 percent in April, a sizable drop that was caused by weeks of closures related to the coronavirus pandemic, the Commerce Department said in its monthly report Friday.
The fall was the sharpest month-to-month drop in U.S. history. Economists had expected a decline of about 12 percent. Retail sales for March fell 8.3 percent, revised down by the department Friday from 8.7 percent.
The analysis said the core retail sector, a category that excludes the volatile automotive and gas industries, saw the greatest decline (16.2 percent) -- punctuated by a sales dive among clothing retailers of almost 80 percent.
Furniture store sales sank by 59 percent, department store sales by 29 percent and grocery store sales by 13 percent.
Online sales, however, bucked the trend as shoppers confined to their homes turned to the Internet and contributed an 8.4 percent increase.
"These retail sales numbers are not a surprise given the current state of affairs," said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation. "The vast majority of retail stores have been closed, we are in the midst of historic unemployment and when it comes to personal finances, discretionary spending takes a back seat to essentials."
Before the health crisis, he said, U.S. retail was setting records for year-over-year growth, employment and investment.
"It is a resilient industry serving a smart consumer, and despite today's report, we know it will be leading our nation's economic recovery as this crisis recedes," Shay said.