Economic Forecasts

COVID-19 Surge Boosts E-commerce, Hurts In-store Sales and Restaurants

Kiplinger’s latest forecast on retail sales and consumer spending.

E-commerce sales will continue to surge, while in-store retail and food service sales are likely to decline a bit for the rest of the year, because of climbing coronavirus cases. E-commerce is expected to rise 35% this holiday season over last year. The impact of Amazon’s Prime Day event was evident in October’s 3.4% rise in e-commerce sales. Other e-tailers competed by offering their own discounts during the event. In-store sales are likely to see a modest decline from their September peak, but should still end the holiday season 3% above last year’s level.

Spiking virus infection rates have halted the bounceback that the retail laggards had been enjoying — namely, clothing and department stores and restaurants. Motor-vehicle sales should stay at elevated levels, while the hot housing market is likely to keep sales of building materials strong.

Restaurants are likely to get the worst of it, as governments in many parts of the country are further limiting or even closing indoor dining, and as cold weather in most of the country makes outdoor eating uncomfortable or impossible.

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