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Holiday sales better than expected; data reveals winners — and losers


It was a less than merry holiday for some retailers, especially in the department store sector, but total sales still managed to beat industry projections, fueled by a strengthening economy.

Retail sales (excluding autos, gas stations and restaurants) during November and December rose 4% over 2015 to $658.3 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. The group had forecast sales would rise 3.6% to $655.8 billion.

Non-store sales (which include online) saw the biggest increase, with sales rising 12.6% to $122.9 billion. The other categories posting year-over-year increases were furniture and furnishing, health and personal care, and clothing and accessories. But department stores clearly did not feel the holiday glow, with sales down 7.0% over last year.

“There has been a lot of talk about online versus in-store retail in the past few months, but that comes from people who don’t realize that online and retail today are the same thing,” said NRF president Matthew Shay said. “In the new distributed commerce world that allows consumers to buy any product, anytime, anywhere, it really doesn’t matter whether a customer shops in a company’s store or on its website or mobile app. It’s all retail.”

The NRF’s numbers are based on data from the Commerce Department, which said that overall December sales — including automobiles, gas stations and restaurants — were up 0.6% seasonally adjusted from November and 4.4% unadjusted year-over-year.

NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz noted that consumers were more active during the holiday season than they had been earlier in the year.

“Economic indicators were up, retailers offered great deals, confidence improved and all of that empowered consumers to spend more,” he said.

Kleinhenz added that average hourly earnings were up in 2016 over 2015, job gains remained strong and unemployment, although up slightly in December from November, remained low. Home values have also increased and the rising stock market has increased the value of consumers’ investments.

A few specifics from the report include:

• Online and other non-store sales increased 12.6% unadjusted year-over-year.

• Sales at clothing and accessories stores increased 2.5% unadjusted year-over-year.

• Sales at general merchandise stores decreased 1.5% unadjusted year-over-year.

• Electronics and appliances stores’ sales decreased 2.3% unadjusted year-over-year.

• Furniture and home furnishings stores’ sales increased 4.8% unadjusted year-over-year.

• Sales at building materials and supplies stores increased 4.5% unadjusted year-over-year.

• Sporting goods stores’ sales decreased 1.7% unadjusted year-over-year.

• Sales at health and personal care stores increased 6.7% unadjusted year-over-year.

• Sales at department stores decreased 7.0% percent unadjusted year-over-year.

• Food and beverage stores' sales increased 3.6% unadjusted year-over-year.

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