Initial Holiday Results: Much better than expected

Holiday sales for November-December approached a 6% gain, which outpaced forecasts of a better holiday and year-ago performance by as much as two percentage points or more.

The strength was evident across all types of brick and mortar stores—not just online. Apparel stores lagged all store types, but still beat expectations. Homegoods stores showed the most strength outside of ecommerce sales, according to the initial government report on retail sales through December.

Ecommerce retail sales for the holiday months were strong at better than 15% growth, but remain estimated (based on the government data) pending a retail e-commerce sales report due on Feb. 16.

Here’s what is known so far—as also supported by the accompanying charts:

  • Holiday brick and mortar. In-store gains overall were between 3% and 4%—or about 1 to 2 percentage points stronger than a year ago. This represented the best brick and mortar growth in years.
  • Holiday by store type. Apparel channels lagged with a 2.4% holiday gain, but that was still twice last year’s growth. Homegoods channels led with a 5.4% gain, which was four times last year’s growth. Supercenters, warehouse clubs, and other mass retailers followed with a 4.7% holiday gain—much better than flat growth a year ago.
  • Monthly trend. The holiday results benefitted from an upward revision to November’s (unadjusted and adjusted) gains. December’s strength was focused in the seasonally adjusted measure (+6.0%) of retail sales (excluding auto, fuel, and restaurant sales).
  • Quarterly trend. The fourth-quarter growth pace approached 5.5%, which was well above the roughly 4% growth rate for third quarter and the 3% to 3.5% pace in the first half of the year.
  • Annual trend. The strong finish to 2017 raised the year-to-date growth rate for traditional retail sales close to the results of the past two years—although weaker performance for autos and restaurants mean that the broader measures of retail sales slowed further in 2017.

The stronger pace of sales to end the year has been supported by signs from the trend in consumers’ confidence to spend over the next 90 days. See more about confidence trends here.

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