Total U.S. consumer spending was down 11% in March due to the impact of COVID-19, but some consumer categories felt the impact far more than others. Airline purchases, for example, were down 67% in March. Others, like grocery, drug and mass discount retailers, climbed significantly as consumers cooked at home and stocked their pantries and medicine cabinets for an extended stretch of sheltering in place. The heat map above shows the year over year change in consumer purchases for the past 9 weeks.

These insights are sourced from Commerce Signals anonymized consumer credit and debit spending behavior dataset that includes 40 million U.S. households. They highlight the dramatic impact of the COVID-19 virus on consumer-facing businesses. Broadly speaking, consumer spending held strong until mid-March when stay-at-home orders and unemployment rose throughout the country. The graph below shows purchases for all consumer card spending vs the growth of COVID-19 cases and rising unemployment.

Note: Weekly sales growth is graphed vs. the vertical axis. COVID-19 cases and unemployment rate are normalized on a different scale.

Pantry Loading

As anyone who has tried to buy toilet paper recently can attest, grocery, mass and club stores have been extraordinarily busy while being slightly eerie at the same time. Their sales results were higher than last year, despite staffing challenges and out of stocks. Grocery stores sales were up 29% in March, while Mass discounters and Wholesale clubs were up 16% and 12%. Drug stores were up 10% as well. Grocery Store sales were up even more in the most urban areas. NYC, LA and Chicago grocers saw sales grow by 55%, 76% and 46% respectively.

Staying at Home

Anything related to travel and entertainment has incurred major revenue declines in March. Travel agencies (-70%), Airlines (-67%), and Lodging (-52%) were the hardest hit in. Given widespread government mandates to stay at home, these declines are somewhat expected, but they are shocking in scale none the less.


Looking at restaurant and bar spending a bit closer, the most recent two weeks have been down 60% or more. Restaurant online sales are still up vs. last year, but not as much as it was before the pandemic (see chart below). No doubt, there are many contributing factors with many states temporarily stopping on-premise dining, more people working from home, fewer people out and recent pantry loading all playing a part. But for restaurant owners’ and employee’s sakes, hopefully people start ordering out more soon. (PSA: Order food from your favorite restaurant tonight).

More Detail

All of the data in this article is available via our COVID-19 Consumer Spend Impact Tracker. The dataset is refreshed weekly. The tracker can be viewed by:

  • State, County and Total U.S.
  • Offline, Online and Total purchases
  • Purchase $, Purchase #, Average Ticket, and Returns $ and Return #

Contact us today for a free trial. No commitment required.

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