Pandemic causes many industries to struggle, others to continue growth

OLYMPIA, Wash. – With many major industries struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington’s taxable retail sales dipped -1.5% in 2020 from the previous year, settling at a total of $178.5 billion.

While sales dropped overall, retail trade sales — a subset of all taxable retail sales in the state — increased 6.5% from 2019, bringing in $81 billion. Retail trade includes sales of items such as clothing, furniture and automobiles, but excludes other industries, such as services and construction.

Taxable retail sales are transactions subject to the retail sales tax, including sales by retailers, the construction industry, manufacturing and other sectors.

These figures are part of a report released today by the Washington State Department of Revenue.

Here are some sectors that saw decreases in retail sales and retail trade sales in 2020:

  • Construction dipped -3.4% to $37.1 billion.
  • New and used auto dealers decreased -3.3% to $13.6 billion.
  • Department stores dropped -37.5% to $952 million.
  • Apparel and accessories decreased -23% to $3.8 billion.

These sectors continued with comfortable growth:

  • Building materials, garden equipment and supplies increased 18.4% to $9.2 billion.
  • General merchandise stores rose 3.9% to $12.4 billion.
  • Electronic and appliance stores rose 18.6% to $5.4 billion.
  • Drug/health stores increased 11% to $3.7 billion.

See calendar year 2020 taxable retail sales and retail trade sales by industry.

Find out more information about taxable retail sales in:

Highlights of 2020 quarters
Numbers from the second quarter 2020 showed it was the most challenging quarter of the year for many sectors, with taxable retail sales dropping overall by -12.6% from second quarter 2019 sales.

Some of the hardest-hit sectors in the second quarter 2020 included those in retail trade: apparel and accessories (down -50%), department stores (dropped -73%), new and used auto dealers (decreased –17%), and furniture and home furnishing (down -27.6%).

Many sectors began reporting higher taxable retail sales in the third quarter 2020, however, overall year-over-year sales dropped -0.1%. Some sectors that saw increases included sales of new and used autos; building materials, garden equipment and supplies; and sales at general merchandise stores.

Compare taxable retail sales numbers for all quarters of 2020 and previous years by checking out the “Retail sales for cities and counties” page on our website.

Check Revenue’s Statistics and Reports page for additional detail about taxable retail sales.

Understanding how businesses are classified
Revenue uses business tax return data to create this quarterly report. Businesses are categorized under the U.S. Census Bureau’s classification system based on their primary taxable activity. The North American Industry Classification System – or NAICS – is the same method federal statistical agencies use for the purpose of analyzing economic data.