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U.S. retail sales see biggest monthly gain on record for the month of May

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BROOKFIELD, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Retail sales in the U.S. saw record rebound numbers during the month of May as states including Wisconsin gradually reopen, and the rebound is seen here on a local level.  

U.S. retail sales recovered almost 18-percent last month compared to April. The National Retail Federation says it is the biggest monthly gain on record dating back to 1992.

“The largest one that I can recall was somewhere close to 7-percent on a month-to-month basis,” said Jack Kleinhenz, Chief Economist at the National Retail Federation.

The National Retail Federation says the numbers comes as a surprise to some degree, but wants people to know why the jump was so significant.

“In April, there was very little business, so when we started seeing an opening of the economy more people were able to go shopping, but they also had the ability to spend with stimulus and added unemployment benefits,” adds Kleinhenz.  

“A lot of pent up demand is showing up in these May numbers, and we’re seeing that locally,” said Tim Sheehy, President of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

While the May numbers also account for online retail sales, area malls including Brookfield Square tell CBS 58 their retailers are pleased with the increase in foot traffic. The mall says consumers are buying.

“I know there are certain things I just don’t want to buy online like trying on clothes and things of that sort,” said Maggie Nelson, a shopper at Brookfield Square. “So I think just being able to go out and do those things again.”

“I wanted new clothes for summer and to expand my wardrobe,” said another shopper, Giana Scukanec.

A survey by the NRF last month shows a majority of customers rely on physical stores.

“About 69-percent of the consumers were dependent on in-store buying,” said Kleinhenz.

While the area has seen somewhat of a rebound, the MMAC says the key to strong retail recovery will be based on unemployment numbers. They say currently the area has a 12-percent unemployment rate.

The NRF says COVID-19 management will also play a factor.

“As that job market rebounds, then consumer confidence will drive consumer spending,” adds Sheehy.

“Depending upon what actions your state had taken and your community has taken it is going to probably influence how the recovery or the near-term recovery occurs,” says Kleinhenz.

While the rebound is good news, we’re not out of the woods, because the May rebound still amounted to less money than sales seen in February. Kleinhenz says it will take quite some time to get back to pre COVID-19 retail sales.

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