Holiday Retail Sales Exceed NRF Forecast; Apparel, Accessories Don’t Reach Same Heights

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Holiday sales during November and December increased 5.5% over the same period in 2016 to $691.9 billion as growing wages, stronger employment and higher confidence led consumers to spend more than had been expected, the National Retail Federation said today. The number, which excludes restaurants, automobile dealers and gasoline stations, includes $138.4 billion in online and other non-store sales, which were up 11.5% over the year before.

Clothing and accessories failed to hit the heights that some other categories did, however, growing 2.7% and coming in above just health/personal care stores and sporting goods stores.

Overall, however, results exceeded NRF’s forecast of between $678.75 billion and $682 billion, which would have been an increase of between 3.6 and 4%, and marked the largest increase since the 5.2% year-over-year gain seen in 2010 after the end of the Great Recession. NRF had forecast that non-store sales, which include online sales, would grow between 11 and 15% to between $137.7 billion and $142.6 billion. December alone was up 0.4% seasonally adjusted from November and up 4.6% unadjusted year-over-year.

INCREASES BY CATEGORY

There were increases in every retail category except sporting goods during the holiday season, which NRF defines as November 1 through December 31. Specifics from key retail sectors during November and December combined include:

  • Building materials and supplies stores increased 8.1% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores increased 7.5% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Electronics and appliance stores increased 6.7% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • General merchandise stores increased 4.3% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Clothing and accessories stores increased 2.7% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Health and personal care stores increased 2.2% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sporting goods stores were down 0.5% unadjusted year-over-year.

“We knew going in that retailers were going to have a good holiday season but the results are even better than anything we could have hoped for, especially given the misleading headlines of the past year,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said.

“The economy was in great shape going into the holiday season, and retailers had the right mix of inventory, pricing and staffing to help them connect with shoppers very efficiently,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Strong employment and more money in consumers’ pockets along with the news of tax cuts clearly helped with the pace of shopping. The market conditions were right, retailers were doing what they know how to do, and it all worked. We think the willingness to spend and growing purchasing power seen during the holidays will be key drivers of the 2018 economy.”

NRF’s numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which reported today that overall December sales – including automobiles, gasoline and restaurants – were up 0.4% seasonally adjusted from November and 5.4% year-over-year.

With unemployment at a 17-year low, a pickup in income, strong consumer confidence and a rising stock market, NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said a number of factors provided a strong base for spending during the holidays. The season came on the heels of the three strongest monthly year-over-year gains for retail sales since the fourth quarter of 2014, nominal disposable personal income was up a combined 3.5% year-over-year in October and November, and consumers were feeling better about using their credit cards, with outstanding balances up 6% year-over-year.

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