NRF: Strongest holiday since end of Great Recession

Low unemployment and confident consumers helped fuel one of the most robust holiday shopping seasons retailers have seen in years.

Retail sales during the combined November and December period jumped 5.5% in 2017 to $691.9 billion, the largest increase since the 5.2% year-over-year gain in 2010 after the end of the Great Recession, the National Retail Federation said. The total, 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.

The results topped the NRF’s forecast of $678.75 to $682 billion, which would have represented a 3.6% to 4% increase. NRF had forecast that non-store sales, would grow between 11% and 15% to between $137.7 billion and $142.6 billion.

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 also came on the heels of the three strongest monthly year-over-year gains for retail sales since the fourth quarter of 2014.

“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,” Kleinhenz said. “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 Friday that overall December sales – including automobiles, gasoline and restaurants – were up 0.4% seasonally adjusted from November and 5.4% year-over-year.

There were increases in every retail category except sporting goods during the holiday season, which NRF defines as Nov. 1 through Dec. 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.
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