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Mastercard Spending Pulse: Holiday sales up 3.4%, fueled by big online increase

holiday shoppers

It’s looking as if retailers got the happy holiday that they were expecting — despite having six fewer days to complete their shopping.

According to Mastercard SpendingPulse, holiday retail sales increased 3.4% (excluding auto sales) with online sales growing 18.8%, compared to 2018. The Mastercard SpendingPulse report provides insights into overall retail spending trends across all payment types, including cash and check.

The report found that e-commerce took a bigger piece of the holiday pie this year, making up 14.6% of total retail. Specialty apparel led the way in year-over-year e-commerce growth by category, rising 17%, followed by electronics, at 10.7%. Jewelry online sales rose 8.8% over last year, and department stores were up 6.9%.

The Mastercard report details holiday shopping from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24. Notably, it does not include sales data for the week between Christmas and New Year’s, which has evolved into one of retail’s biggest volume periods of the year. 

“E-commerce sales hit a record high this year with more people doing their holiday shopping online,” said Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard and former CEO and chairman of Saks. “Due to a later than usual Thanksgiving holiday, we saw retailers offering omnichannel sales earlier in the season, meeting consumers’ demand for the best deals across all channels and devices.”

Additional findings from Mastercard are below:

•    Total apparel saw a gain, posting 1% growth year over year. The category also experienced stronger than expected e-commerce growth, up 17% compared to 2018.

•    The jewelry sector experienced 1.8% growth in total retail sales, with online sales growing 8.8%. This trend started before the holiday season and helped the sector power through to its finish.

•    Department stores saw overall sales decline 1.8% and online sales growth of 6.9%, emphasizing the importance of omnichannel offerings.

•    Electronics and appliances were up 4.6%, while the home furniture and furnishings category grew 1.3%.

•    E-commerce sales grew 18.8% this holiday season compared to 2018. This is up from the 18.4% growth rate last year.

• E-commerce share of overall retail spend for Black Friday was 15.4%.

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