Mastercard SpendingPulse: U.S. retail sales grew 26.3% year-over-year in March, one year since first lockdown

April 8, 2021 | Purchase, NY

U.S. retail sales growth rates increased by double-digits in March as we hit the one-year mark since the first COVID lockdowns impacted retail sales. According to Mastercard SpendingPulseTM, U.S. retail sales excluding automotive and gasoline increased 26.3% year-over-year in March, and online sales grew 56.8% compared to 2020. Mastercard SpendingPulse measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment.

Retail sales benefited from the infusion of stimulus payments, coupled with broader reopening across the country. This is particularly evident when looking at the first and second halves of the month:

  • Sales in the first half of March increased 1.6% vs. a year ago, when consumers were hitting the stores and stocking up in the face of the pandemic.
  • In comparison, during the second half of the month, retail sales rose 46.9% YOY. This growth reflects both the positive boost of the stimulus payments on consumer spending as well as the lockdowns that weakened retail sales across the country in the same period in 2020.

The unique retail scenario of last March is also seen in the year-over-year comparison for the sectors.

For instance, in March 2020, discretionary sectors such as Apparel and Jewelry experienced a dip in spend when people first started social distancing; this has led to significantly elevated growth rates this March.

Essential sectors, such as Grocery, faced the opposite situation as sales surged last year as consumers stocked up; Grocery fell into negative growth territory this month when compared to the strong growth in March 2020. Grocery sales are up (+7.5%) when compared to March 2019, however.

Media Contacts

William Tsang, Mastercard
Julia Monti, Mastercard

About Mastercard SpendingPulse

Mastercard SpendingPulse™ reports on national retail sales across all payment types in select markets around the world. The findings are based on aggregate sales activity in the Mastercard payments network, coupled with survey-based estimates for certain other payment forms, such as cash and check. As such, SpendingPulse™ insights do not in any way contain, reflect or relate to actual Mastercard operational or financial performance, or specific payment-card-issuer data.

Mastercard SpendingPulse defines “U.S. retail sales” as sales at retailers and food services merchants of all sizes. Sales activity within the services sector (for example, travel services such as airlines and lodging) are not included. Holiday spending insights are preliminary. 

About Mastercard (NYSE: MA)

Mastercard is a global technology company in the payments industry. Our mission is to connect and power an inclusive, digital economy that benefits everyone, everywhere by making transactions safe, simple, smart and accessible. Using secure data and networks, partnerships and passion, our innovations and solutions help individuals, financial institutions, governments and businesses realize their greatest potential. With connections across more than 210 countries and territories, we are building a sustainable world that unlocks priceless possibilities for all.