Stores prepare for shoppers as New York City enters phase two of reopening.

June retail sales rose a seasonally adjusted 7.5 percent from May, a bounce back that was slightly stronger than the 5.4 percent gain economists projected. 

Sales even managed to notch a 1.1 percent gain compared with a year earlier, although the sector is still digging itself out of the COVID-19 crisis, according to the Census Bureau. Total sales from April through June marked an 8.1 percent drop from a year ago, a huge decline for the sector. 

Apparel and accessories specialty stores were hit hardest in the shutdown and bounced back the strongest, rising 105.1 percent in June when compared with May, although the segment was still off 23.2 percent from a year earlier. 

Department stores sales were up 19.8 percent from May, but down 10.6 percent from a year earlier. 

And there were indications that the rush to e-commerce abated as stores reopened. June sales at nonstore retailers slipped 2.4 percent from May, although they were still up 23.5 percent from a year earlier. 

Economists are closing watching consumers and how they respond as the coronavirus crisis grinds on. 

Quick steps by the government to send stimulus checks to many consumers and prop up unemployment benefits have helped to support spending. Consumers’ outlook for the future has held up over the pandemic even as their take on their present day has tanked, according The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index. 

But fears are growing that consumers will start to feel more bearish about the future if the coronavirus outbreak continues to worsen, a concern all the more pressing with cases spiking in the key markets of California, Texas and Florida. A prolonged resurgence could cause shoppers to withdraw just as stores try to eke what they can out of the holiday season, contributing to a double-dip recession, which is The Conference Board’s current projection. The forecasting group expects U.S. gross domestic product to fall by 7 percent this year.

The crisis has forever changed the industry already, pushing many of the retailers that were on the edge even before the pandemic into bankruptcy, including J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus, J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, Lucky Brand and more.

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