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Retail sales reached pre-pandemic levels before December, says NPD

woman holding christmas gift bags
Black Friday sales were heavily diluted by several factors, according to The NPD Group.

The U.S. retail industry had largely recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic even before the start of December.

That’s according to The NPD Group, which said that U.S. sales revenue for discretionary general merchandise in 2021 had already reached 100% of the highest level reached in 2019 and 98% of the 2020 peak before December.

Momentum through the early part of the year and holiday shopping season offset Black Friday results that fell short of typical pre-pandemic levels, NPD Said. Sales revenue during this year’s Thanksgiving week grew 14% over the same week in 2020 but it was 5% below the same pre-pandemic period two years ago.

“Black Friday came back from last year’s pandemic pause, but it was heavily diluted,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry advisor for NPD. “Between the early push from promotions and fears of supply shortages, plus the lost art of the doorbuster hitting industries that have historically relied on them, the captivating crowds and impulsivity of the deal frenzy were absent from Black Friday 2021.”  

Source: The NPD Group/Retail Early Indicator, NPD universe, WE November 27, 2021

Early holiday shopping momentum, combined with a Thanksgiving peak that neared pre-pandemic levels, will make the weeks that follow particularly critical to watch, advised Cohen. The week after Black Friday historically has been the start of a holiday shopping lull. But the drop-off has been less dramatic in recent years.

The 16% decline in sales during the week after Black Friday 2019 was a marked improvement over the 22% drop in 2018. Then came 2020, which completely bucked the trend of post-Thanksgiving week declines. This year, there is potential for the return of a deeper overall lull.

“It’s been an eventful couple of months but there is still a lot of holiday left and, if the post-peak lull does materialize, planning and flexibility will make the difference in these final weeks,” Cohen said. “This preparation will prove even more critical when looking beyond the 2021 holiday season, as consumer demand is poised to shift yet again.”

The National Retail Federation has forecast sales growth of 8.5% to 10.5% during November and December. NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz recently said sales could go even higher.

[Read More: Holiday sales could beat forecast despite inflation, COVID, says NRF economist]

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