NRF: November Holiday Retail Sales Up 8.8% Despite Pandemic

November retail sales increased 8.8% from the previous-year period despite the pandemic — but declined 1.1% from October, according to new data from the National Retail Federation.

“Consumers held back on spending in November [from October] as virus rates spiked, states imposed retail restrictions and congressional stimulus discussions were gridlocked,” NRF CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement.

Shay’s comments come as Congress appears moving toward a $900 billion stimulus package that would include an additional $300 weekly atop other unemployment funds. That amount is 50% less than what the federal government paid unemployment recipients in the first CARES Act, which expired on July 30.

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“We are hopeful [the second stimulus] will be passed soon as we enter the final stretch of the holiday season,” Shay said.

The U.S. Census Bureau Dec. 16 reported that overall retail sales in November were down 1.1% seasonally adjusted from October but up 4.1% year-over-year. That compares with a monthly drop of 0.1% but a yearly gain of 5.5% in October.

“The month-over-month decline isn’t surprising because some spending was pulled forward into October by campaigns encouraging consumers to shop early and shop safe,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. “Despite that, as we go into the final weeks of 2020, year-over-year trends show spending is holding up well regardless of month-to-month fluctuations. Nonetheless, we have to remember the remainder of the holiday season depends critically on the virus. We are optimistic, but spending could shift into a lower gear if the virus continues to spread.”

November saw year-over-year gains in seven out of nine retail categories, led by double-digit increases for online sales, building materials and sporting goods.

  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 1.6% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 8.5% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were up 1.1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 17.2% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Online and other non-store sales were up 0.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 30% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sporting goods stores were down 0.6% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 14% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Health and personal care stores were down 0.7% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 2.6% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • General merchandise stores were down 1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 1% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 1.1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 0.4% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Electronics and appliance stores were down 3.5% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and down 9.9% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 6.8% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and down 19.2% unadjusted year-over-year.


NRF’s calculation of retail sales — which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail — showed November was down 0.3% seasonally adjusted from October but up 8.8% unadjusted year-over-year. That compared with a decrease of 0.1% month-over-month and an increase of 10.5% year-over-year in October. NRF’s numbers were up 10.8% unadjusted year-over-year on a three-month moving average.

Monthly numbers fluctuate even when adjusted for seasonal variations, making year-over-year comparisons a better indication of long-term trends. On a year-over-year basis, retail sales have increased each month since May under NRF’s calculation and since June under the Census Bureau calculation. Retail sales during the first 11 months of the year were up 6.6%, according to NRF’s calculation.

NRF has forecast that holiday sales will increase between 3.6% and 5.2% over 2019 to a total between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion. While NRF defines the holiday season as Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, NRF research shows 42% of consumers started holiday shopping sooner than usual this year after NRF urged the public to shop safe and shop early. On average, consumers had about half their holiday shopping left to do as of Thanksgiving weekend.

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