Retail sales in July 2022:

Retail activity was flat in July, the Census Bureau said Wednesday, as falling fuel prices dampen sales at gas stations and consumers increasingly turn to online shopping.

While pre-retail sales were flat, total non-car sales rose 0.4%. Economists polled by Dow Jones had expected a 0.1% increase in revenue and a flat total excluding cars. June growth was revised from 1% to 0.8%.

Retail and food sales, excluding gasoline and autos, rose 0.7% from the previous month.

Figures are seasonally adjusted, not inflation-adjusted, and are from a month in which the consumer price index was also flat.

The fall in fuel prices from their all-time nominal highs led to lower gas station sales, with gas station revenue down 1.8%. Automotive and parts sales also fell sharply, down 1.6%.

Gasoline prices topped $5 a gallon in many places early in the summer, but dropped in July and were most recently at $3.94 a gallon for regular unleaded gasoline, according to the AAA.

This decline in gasoline and auto sales was offset by a 2.7% increase in online sales and a 1.5% increase in in-store sales.

Consumers have struggled to keep up with an inflationary environment that has seen prices rise overall by 8.5% year-over-year, close to the highest level in 40 years. Price increases have been particularly damaging in the food and energy categories; even taking into account the fall in energy prices in July, the revenue of filling stations increased by 39.9% compared to last year.

July provided some respite from inflationary pressures, and lower fuel prices, in particular, allowed consumers to spend money elsewhere.

However, food sales rose just 0.2%, even as the Bureau of Labor Statistics food price index rose 1.1% on the month. Sales at bars and restaurants also fell, up just 0.1%.

Some retailers have also faced difficulties in the current environment.

Target on Wednesday said its sales were down nearly 90% year-over-year as it had to slash prices on items it didn’t need.

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