NRF: Holiday Sales Came In Stronger Than Expected

The National Retail Federation reported retail sales during 2020’s November-December holiday season grew an unexpectedly high 8.3% compared to the same period in 2019 to $789.4 billion.

That sales growth exceeded the figures in the NRF’s holiday forecast, despite the economic challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, the organization pointed out. The numbers, based on NRF’s take on data provided by the United States Census Bureau, included online and other non-stores sales, which were up 23.9% to $209 billion, NRF noted.

The holiday season experineced year-over-year gains in six out of nine retail categories. In the November-December holiday period, unadjusted year-over-year sales were:

  • Nonstore Retailers, up 23.9%
  • Building Material & Garden Equipment & Supplies Dealers , up 19%
  • Sporting Goods, Hobby, Musical Instrument & Book Stores, up 15.2%
  • Food & Beverage Stores, up 9.6%
  • Health & Personal Care Stores, up 5.4%
  • Furniture & Home Furnishing Stores, up 2.2%
  • General Merchandise Stores, down 0.1%
  • Electronics & Appliance Stores, down 14.4%
  • Clothing & Clothing Accessories Stores, down 14.9%

“Despite unprecedented challenges, consumers and retailers demonstrated incredible resilience this holiday season,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said in announcing the figures. “Faced with rising transmission of the virus, state restrictions on retailers and heightened political and economic uncertainty, consumers chose to spend on gifts that lifted the spirits of their families and friends and provided a sense of normalcy given the challenging year. We believe president-elect Biden’s stimulus proposal, with direct payments to families and individuals, further aid for small businesses and tools to keep businesses open, will keep the economy growing.”

NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz added, “There was a massive boost to most consumer wallets this season. Consumers were able to splurge on holiday gifts because of increased money in their bank accounts from the stimulus payments they received earlier in the year and the money they saved by not traveling, dining out or attending entertainment events. Some families are still struggling, as are some retail sectors. But the promise of a new round of stimulus checks after a deal was struck before Christmas helped increase consumer confidence. Consumers were also encouraged by the news of COVID-19 vaccines becoming available, which helped offset concerns about increased infection rates and state restrictions on activity.”

Kleinhenz said holiday-related spending picked up in the third and fourth weeks of December, after delivery of online purchases by Christmas wasn’t possible. As a result, he asserted, consumers turned to quick in-and-out trips to stores and took advantage of buy-online/pick up in-store/curbside services retailers have added the past several months.

NRF had forecast that sales in the 2020 holiday season from November 1 through December 31 would increase between 3.6% and 5.2% versus the 2019 period to a total between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion. The forecast called for online sales to increase between 20% and 30% to between $202.5 billion and $218.4 billion, excluding automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.

Retail sales during December were down 1.6% seasonally adjusted from November but were up 8.6% unadjusted year-over-year, NRF asserted. That built on a year-over-year gain of 8% in November despite November’s month-over-month decline of 0.9% from October. As of December, the three-month moving average was up 8.9% versus the same period in 2019.

NRF’s numbers derive from the U.S. Census Bureau, which said today that overall December sales– including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants– slipped 0.7% seasonally adjusted from November but advanced 2.9% unadjusted year-over-year.

In the Census Bureau reckoning, advanced December retail sales, excluding foodservice, motor vehicle and parts stores, as well as gas stations, slipped 0.3% from November but gained 6.3% from December 2019.

Nonstore Retailers, as accounted by the Census Bureau and overwhelmingly conducting online sales, slid 5.8% from a promotion-heavy November as retailers worked to get a jump on holiday season sales and keep store traffic spread out over time and less jammed up around specific sales events given the dangers inherent during the COVID-19 pandemic, However, Nonstore Retailers enjoyed a 19.2% sales gain versus December 2019.

In December 2020, according to the Census Bureau:

  • Furniture & Home Furnishing Stores sales decreased 0.6% from November but increased 3.1% year over year.
  • Electronics & Appliance Stores sales decreased 4.9% from November and 16.6% year over year.
  • Building Material & Garden Equipment & Supplies Dealers sales increased 0.9% from November and 17% year over year.
  • Food & Beverage Stores sales decreased 1.4% from November but increased 8.9% year over year.
  • Health & Personal Care Stores sales increased 1.1% from November and 5.8% year over year.
  • Clothing & Clothing Accessories Stores sales increased 2.4% from November but decreased 16% year over year.
  • Sporting Goods, Hobby, Musical Instrument & Book Stores sales decreased 0.8% from November but increased 15.2% year over year.
  • General Merchandise Stores sales decreased 1.2% from November but increased 1.1% year over year.
  • Miscellaneous Store Retailers sales increased 1.7% from October and 4.7% year over year.

The Census Bureau breaks out a key component of the General Merchandise Stores category sales, those for Department Stores, which fell by 3.8% from November and 21.4% year over year.