US retail sales climbed less than expected last month, another signal that the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic has slowed.
Retailers and food-service merchants raked in $537.5 billion in August, a modest 0.6 percent increase from the prior month that came in below experts’ estimates for a 1 percent rise, the US Census Bureau said Wednesday.
Last month marked a slowdown from the 0.9 percent growth seen in July, a figure the feds revised downward after initially estimating a 1.2 percent jump.
While retailers have rebounded strongly from the record collapse in sales that COVID-19 caused in March and April, experts say the recovery is losing steam now that money from crucial government stimulus programs — such as expanded unemployment benefits — is running out.
“With those benefits having mostly ceased and Congress still deliberating over a new spending package, the concern is that many households are dipping into savings or taking on debt in order to maintain spending levels,” said Curt Long, chief economist and vice president of research at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions.
Retail sales actually dipped 0.1 percent in August when automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services were excluded. Those so-called core retail sales, which economists expected to rise 0.5 percent, correspond most closely with the consumer spending piece of the nation’s gross domestic product.
Total sales were nevertheless above pre-pandemic levels and about 2.5 percent higher than in August 2019, the seasonally adjusted data show. Bars and restaurants led the way with a 4.7 percent increase in August, followed by a 2.9 percent jump at clothing and accessories stores, according to the feds.
“Even in the final month of the summer, retail is maintaining a decent presence despite the pandemic,” said Marwan Forzley, CEO of payments-processing firm Veem. “Looking ahead, we should expect to see online retailing maintain a steady balance, right before the holiday season.”
Several factors may have driven the small August increase, including a strong stock market, consumer stockpiling and a shift in how people spend discretionary money now that they can’t travel as easily, according to Jonathan Silver, CEO of Affinity Solutions, a global insights and marketing solutions firm.
“Despite the rosy picture, and if the lift continues, this is an environment where consumer behavior will continue to shift in real-time,” Silver said.
With Post wires
Century 21 plans hundreds of layoffs ahead of store closings
Bankrupt off-price retailer Century 21 plans to lay off hundreds of workers when its 13 stores close for good this fall, records show.
The beloved chain, which carried high-ends brands at bargain prices, will shut its New York, Pennsylvania and Florida stores by Nov. 22 after the coronavirus pandemic forced it into bankruptcy earlier this month, according to notices filed with state labor officials.
The closures will eventually put 855 employees in those three states out of work, including 599 at five Big Apple stores and the corporate headquarters on Cortlandt Street, records show. The notices indicate that some staffers were cut on Sept. 11, the day after Century 21’s bankruptcy filing.
The chain’s Lincoln Square location at Broadway and West 66th Street will close to the public on or about Oct. 5, more than a month before the rest of the city’s stores, and its workers will be axed roughly four days later, one notice says.
It’s unclear how many workers will be affected when Century 21’s New Jersey stores are shuttered. Labor agencies in those states had not published any layoff notices from the company as of Thursday afternoon. Century 21 did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Century 21 has started going-out-of-business sales at its shops, which are popular among fashion-conscious shoppers seeking cut-price designer clothes, shoes and accessories. The company blamed its bankruptcy on insurance companies’ failure to pay up as COVID-19 forced its stores to close.
Century 21 has about 1,215 retail and distribution workers and some 175 corporate staff, it said in a court filing. The pandemic-induced store closures forced the company to furlough nearly all the retail employees and half the corporate staff, though many workers have returned to their jobs as stores reopened, according to the filing.
Godiva CEO Annie Young-Scrivner to step down
Godiva CEO Annie Young-Scrivner is leaving the high-end chocolatier after three years on the job.
Young-Scrivner plans to step down at the end of November to “pursue a new opportunity outside of the company,” Godiva said in a statement Thursday. The New York-based candy maker has started searching for her replacement and Young-Scrivner will help with the leadership transition, the company said.
Young-Scrivner joined Godiva in 2017 after holding senior gigs at Starbucks and PepsiCo. She tried to introduce the brand’s luxury sweets to the broader consumer market by selling cheaper items at Target and other retailers, according to Bloomberg.
Born in Taiwan to Chinese parents, Young-Scrivner immigrated to the US when she was 7 and started her career with a 20-year stint at Pepsi, where she served as president and chairman of PepsiCo Food in China before moving to Starbucks in 2009.
She also sits on the boards of directors for Taco Bell parent Yum! Brands and storied jeweler Tiffany & Co., which is embroiled in a legal battle over its $16.2 billion acquisition by luxury conglomerate LVMH.
Amazon unveils security drone to fly around your home
Amazon isn’t content to hear everything you say with its smart speakers. It now wants to see inside your home, too.
The e-tail juggernaut unveiled a slew of new products at its annual fall hardware event on Thursday, including a security drone that flies around people’s homes on preset flight paths.
The latest version of Amazon’s Ring security camera, called the “Always Home Cam,” docks into a base that looks a bit like an Apple TV, and launches its drone to patrol when its sensors are triggered after its owner has put it in “away” mode.
“Users can check if the oven was left on, the doors are locked, or the curling iron was left on with this compact, lightweight, autonomously flying indoor camera that flies predetermined paths set by the user, providing greater visibility when no one is home,” Amazon explained.
The announcement caused a stir on Twitter, with users joking about the dystopian implications.
“Because what your home really needs is an autonomous indoor drone that lets Amazon see everything you own,” one user wrote.
“An internet connected drone camera for your home, owned by Amazon,” another tweeted. “This definitely won’t be a privacy nightmare *at all*.”
Amazon insisted that the camera is designed to film only while it is in flight, saying that the lens is otherwise blocked when it’s docked. The company added that it designed the drone’s propellers to make a lot of noise during flight so that if someone happens to be inside when it flies by, they can hear it coming.
“It’s built to be loud so it’s privacy you can hear,” Ring president Leila Rouhi said during the presentation.
The $250 flying camera will go on sale in 2021, Amazon said. The video stream is accessible via the Ring app.
Amazon acquired Ring, known for its home security products, in 2018.
The Seattle company also showed off its latest generation of Echo speakers during Thursday’s event, announcing that it was moving on from its traditional hockey puck shape to a more spherical design.
The Amazon Fire TV is also getting an update, with HDR and Dolby Atmos, as well as a revamped user interface that will replace Prime Video’s clunky software.
The e-tail giant is rolling out a new streaming gaming service called Luna which is similar to Google Statia. It will cost $5.99 per month and will play games such as “Assassin’s Creed.”
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