Holiday Retail Sales Rise 8.3% Defying The Pandemic

U.S. holiday retail sales in 2020 were unexpectedly high compared to last year and came in significantly higher than the previous forecast, according to the National Retail Federation or NRF.

Retail sales for the November-December 2020 holiday season grew 8.3 percent from the prior-year period to $789.4 billion. The figures exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.

The strong increase in retail sales came even as this year’s holiday season was hurt by the unprecedented challenges faced due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as well as the heightened political and economic uncertainty.

The total retail sales figures include online and other non-store sales, which rose 23.9 percent to $209 billion. The increase is within the growth range of 20 to 30 percent previously estimated by the NRF.

The holiday season saw year-over-year gains in six out of nine retail categories, led by double-digit increases for online sales, building materials stores and sporting goods stores.

NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said holiday-related spending picked up in the third and fourth weeks of December, after it was too late to expect delivery of online purchases by Christmas. Consumers took advantage of buy online and pick up in-store/curbside services provided by the retailers.

The holiday season is the most crucial period of the year for the retail industry. Traditionally, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, marks the start of the holiday shopping season in the U.S.

In November, the NRF forecast that 2020 holiday sales in November and December would increase between 3.6 percent and 5.2 percent to $755.3 billion – $766.7 billion. Online sales for the period were projected to increase between 20 percent and 30 percent to between $202.5 billion and $218.4 billion.

Retail sales for the month of December 2020 decreased 1.6 percent seasonally adjusted over November, but grew 8.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year. The December’s results followed November’s decline of 0.9 percent month-over-month and an increase of 9 percent year-over-year.

The figures by NRF are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which said that overall December sales were down 0.7 percent seasonally adjusted from November, but was up 2.9 percent unadjusted year-over-year. These figures include auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants.

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