Holiday retail sales increased 4 percent in 2016

Treacy Reynolds
January 13, 2017

Holiday retail sales during November and December increased 4 percent over 2015 to $658.3 billion, as a strengthening economy encouraged consumers to spend even more freely than expected, the National Retail Federation said today. The number includes $122.9 billion in non-store sales, which were up 12.6 percent over the year before.

The numbers exceeded NRF’s forecast of $655.8 billion, which would have been an increase of 3.6 percent. NRF had forecast that online sales would grow between 7 and 10 percent to as much as $117 billion. The numbers exclude automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants.

December was up 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted from November and 3.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

“These numbers show that the nation’s slow-but-steady economic recovery is picking up speed and that consumers feel good about the future,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Retail mirrors the economy. And while there might have been some bumps in the road for individual companies, the retail industry overall had a solid holiday season and retailers will work to sustain this in the year ahead.”

“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,” 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. Today’s retailers sell to shoppers any way they want to buy.”

“The economy was clearly stronger in the fall and consumers were more active during the holiday season than they had been earlier in the year”

Jack Kleinhenz
NRF Chief Economist

“The economy was clearly stronger in the fall and consumers were more active during the holiday season than they had been earlier in the year,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Economic indicators were up, retailers offered great deals, confidence improved and all of that empowered consumers to spend more.”

Kleinhenz noted 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.

While the e-commerce data for retail sales from the Commerce Department is only available on a quarterly basis, NRF expects e-commerce sales during the holiday season to be on par with recent quarterly releases showing 16 percent growth year-over-year.

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

There were monthly increases in furniture and furnishing and clothing and accessories during November and December despite declines in other categories. 

A few specifics from the report include:

  • Online and other non-store sales increased 12.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sales at clothing and accessories stores increased 2.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sales at general merchandise stores decreased 1.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Electronics and appliances stores’ sales decreased 2.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores’ sales increased 4.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sales at building materials and supplies stores increased 4.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sporting goods stores’ sales decreased 1.7 percent unadjusted year-over-year.  
  • Sales at health and personal care stores increased 6.7 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sales at Department Stores decreased 7.0 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Food and beverage stores' sales increased 3.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.