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US retail sales plunged 16% in April as virus froze economy

The sharpest drops from March to April were at clothiers, electronics stores, furniture stores and restaurants.

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U.S. retail sales tumbled 16.4% from March to April as business shutdowns caused by the coronavirus kept shoppers away, threatened stores across the country and weighed down a sinking economy.

The Commerce Department’s report Friday on retail purchases showed a sector that has collapsed so quickly that sales over the past 12 months are down a crippling 21.6%.

The sharpest drops from March to April were at clothiers, electronics stores, furniture stores and restaurants. A long-standing migration of consumers toward online purchases is accelerating, with that segment posting a 8.4% monthly gain. Measured year over year, online sales surged 21.6%.

For a retail sector already reeling from the migration of consumers to online shopping and to app-based delivery services, a back-to-back free-fall in spending poses a grave risk. Department stores like Neiman Marcus and J.Crew have filed for bankruptcy protection. Hotels, restaurants and auto dealerships are in danger.