The NPD Group reported that holiday sales for key general merchandise categories it covers were up just 0.2% in 2019 versus 2018, according to weekly point-of-sales results, although critical housewares segments were strong.
NPD based the overall result on a final holiday shopping period ending with the week including Christmas. Weekly performance varied by category during most of the traditional holiday shopping period, spanning the eight weeks between November 3 and December 28, with technology and small appliances generating the largest dollar sales gains. In contrast, apparel and toy sales stumbled when compared to holiday 2018.
When drawn out through the nine weeks ending January 4, a period that accounts for extended holiday sales including gift card transactions, small appliances gained 3.3%; kitchen appliances gained 4.3%; home environment gained 2%; and personal care appliances gained 3.2%, according to NPD.
“Holiday 2019 was all about cadence, with early promotions moving a fair amount of holiday sales ahead of the traditional shopping period and a surge of sales during the final week’s last minute rush,” said Marshal Cohen, NPD chief industry advisor. “Additionally, consumers continue to migrate to more ‘intangible’ gifting, putting more emphasis on experiences than things and focusing more on how they live than how they look this holiday.”
Consumers demonstrated a willingness to spend money in the holidays, NPD pointed out, but not just on experiences. Unit sales demonstrated more softness than dollar sales, indicating consumers gave higher-priced gifts this holiday, even amidst extensive promotions and deep discounting across retail. In terms of retail operations, digital proved instrumental to holiday success.
“There were some clear winners during holiday 2019, and strong execution of an omnichannel strategy proved critical for stores to stay in the game during a season where e-commerce drove the growth,” Cohen said. “Lessons learned from this unique season around the integration of digital and in-store traffic, and where the consumer focus really is, will be critical to retail success in 2020.”