Retail sales dipped 1.1% in November compared with a month earlier as new coronavirus surges restricted outings to stores and especially restaurants.



U.S. shoppers pulled back on spending at stores and restaurants last month. It's the biggest decline in retail spending reported by the Commerce Department since the historic collapse this - in the spring. NPR's Alina Selyukh has more.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: The actual number is 1.1%. That's how much retail sales dipped last month as compared to October. It's a key economic measure that includes spending on cars and gas, food and drink and, of course, shopping. The new surge of coronavirus cases has many cities and states once again restricting outings, and so restaurants and bars took one of the biggest hits in November.

CAMERON MITCHELL: It's really worse now than it really has been since the beginning of the pandemic.

SELYUKH: Cameron Mitchell runs dozens of restaurants, mostly high-end, in 13 states. He says September was his high-water mark.

MITCHELL: And then sales started to fall in October slightly. Then in November - we finished November at 52% of last year's sales.

SELYUKH: Now, in the world of retail stores, November was a peculiar month because that's when shoppers went on record-setting sprees for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But something else unusual happened this year, says Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation.

JACK KLEINHENZ: Many retailers were starting their Black Friday promotions even in October.

SELYUKH: That may be another reason why the November numbers don't look as great compared to a month earlier. A third reason was that many families ran out of the pandemic financial aid and boosted unemployment benefits. Last month, clothing in department stores saw a dip in sales, like for much of the year. So did electronics stores. And even online sales only grew 0.2%, compared to October. If this sounds dreary, Kleinhenz says it's important to take the long view.

KLEINHENZ: We focus in on year-over-year numbers. That's how retailers look at their performance.

SELYUKH: And compared to last year, this year's sales are actually higher, despite the pandemic.

Alina Selyukh, NPR News.

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