Three Factors Drove Consumer Spending in March

However, rising prices for services remains a problem.
Danielle Romano
Hand pulling out dollar bills from wallet

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Consumer spending was on the rise in March as an early spring holiday, tax refunds and job growth put more money in shoppers' wallets.

Citing data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, National Retail Federation (NRF) Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said the numbers confirm that consumer spending remains steady, underscoring a resilient consumer despite inflationary pressure.

"While sales were mixed, several factors supported retail sales including an early Easter holiday, slightly larger 2023 tax refunds and stronger payroll growth over the last three months," he said. "Nonetheless, the increasing share of consumer spending going to services as prices for services rise remains a stubborn problem because it leaves less household income available to spend on retail goods."

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Overall retail sales were up 0.7% in March, seasonally adjusted from February, and up 4% unadjusted year over year, according to the Census Bureau. That compared with increases of 0.9% month over month and 2.1% year over year in February.

Based on the Census data but excluding automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, March's core retail sales as defined by NRF were up 1.1% seasonally adjusted from February and up 3.2% unadjusted year over year. Core retail sales were up 3.9% unadjusted year over year on a three-month moving average as of March.

[Read more: Consumers Experiencing Credit Card Fee Fatigue]

On April 12, the CNBC/NRF Retail Monitor, powered by Affinity Solutions, reported that March sales grew at a steady pace. The Retail Monitor found core March retail sales were up 0.23% seasonally adjusted from February and up 2.92% unadjusted year over year. That compared with increases of 0.27% month over month and 2.99% year over year in February.

NRF provides data on retail sales each month and also forecasts annual retail sales and spending for key periods such as the holiday season each year.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization advocates for the people, brands, policies and ideas that help retail succeed. 

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