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Mastercard: Holiday sales rise 8.5% — fastest pace in 17 years

The newest COVID-variant disrupted holiday plans for many Americans, but it didn’t have much of an impact when it came to holiday shopping.

Holiday sales increased 8.5% year-over-year this holiday season (from November 1 through December 24), according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks in-store and online retail sales (excluding automotive) across all forms of payment. It was the biggest gain in 17 years and topped the 7.4% increase Mastercard had forecast.  

The Mastercard report, the first overall look at the season, underscored the strength of holiday sales across channels.

In-store sales rose 8.1% compared to 2020 and 2.4% compared with the pre-pandemic 2019 holiday period. E-commerce continued to expand, with sales up 11.0% year-over-year and 61.4% compared to 2019. 

The results were led by purchases of clothing and jewelry.  Apparel sales rose 47.3% year-over-year and 29% compared 2019. Jewelry sales increased 32% year-over-year and 26.2%  compared to 2019. Electronics sales rose 16.2% year-over-year and 19.8% compared to 2019.

Department stores staged a comeback of sorts during the holiday. Sales increased 21.2% year-over-year and 11% compared to 2019.

Additional findings from the Mastercard report are below.

  • E-commerce sales snowballed.  Online made up 20.9% of total retail sales, up from 20.6% in 2020 and 14.6% in 2019.
  • Consumers shopped early: As many had predicted, and continuing a key trend from 2020 consumers shopped earlier than in years past, as retailers offered special promotions early and then again later in the season as shoppers raced to secure “guaranteed by Christmas” shipping offers. Looking at Mastercard’s expanded holiday season, total retail sales were up +8.6% year-over-year for the 75 days between October 11 and December 24.
  • Thanksgiving weekend remained key: Black Friday marked the top spending day of the 2021 holiday season yet again. For the Thanksgiving weekend (Friday, November 26 through Sunday, November 28), shoppers drove U.S. retail sales up 14.1% year-over year.

In-store sales also rebounded, increasing +16.5%  year-over-year. E-commerce sales experienced sustained growth, up +4.9% year-over-year.

  • Smaller gifts had a big impact: Whether consumers were shopping for themselves or for loved ones, the jewelry sector experienced some of the strongest year-over-year and year-over-two-year growth.

“Shoppers were eager to secure their gifts ahead of the retail rush, with conversations surrounding supply chain and labor supply issues sending consumers online and to stores in droves,” said Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard and former CEO and Chairman of Saks Incorporated. “Consumers splurged throughout the season, with apparel and department stores experiencing strong growth as shoppers sought to put their best dressed foot forward.”

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