Winter Holiday FAQs

A blue door with a holiday wreath hanging

What is NRF’s forecast for the upcoming 2022 holiday season?

NRF forecasts that holiday retail sales during November and December will grow between 6% and 8% over 2021 to between $942.6 billion and $960.4 billion. Last year’s holiday sales grew 13.5% over 2020 and totaled $889.3 billion, shattering previous records. Holiday retail sales have averaged an increase of 4.9% over the past 10 years, with pandemic spending in recent years accounting for considerable gains.


What does NRF classify as the winter holidays?

In terms of retail spending, the winter holidays include the months of November and December and cover major consumer shopping events such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. However, many consumers start browsing holiday items and sales earlier than that.

What percentage of annual retail sales do the holidays represent?

Overall, holiday sales in November and December have averaged about 19% of total retail sales over the last five years, but the figure can be higher for some retailers. In addition, holiday sales can be more profitable because the increased volume of purchases comes without significantly increasing retailers’ fixed costs of doing business.

How much of holiday sales occur online?

NRF expects that online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total, to increase between 10% and 12% to between $262.8 billion and $267.6 billion. This figure is up from $238.9 billion last year, which saw extraordinary growth in digital channels.

How many extra jobs does the retail industry create during the holiday season?

NRF expects retailers will hire between 450,000 and 600,000 seasonal workers. That compares with 669,800* seasonal hires in 2021. Some of this hiring may have been pulled into October as many retailers are eager to supplement their workforces to meet increased consumer demand.

*The methodology used to calculate holiday retail employment in 2020 was changed to accommodate the sizeable impact of COVID-19 on overall industry employment. In 2021, NRF returned to a traditional employment buildup method.

How does NRF define retail sales?

Retail sales, as defined by NRF, include both store-based and online purchases in a broad range of retail categories including discount stores, department stores, grocers and specialty stores, but exclude purchases at automotive dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.

What is the difference between holiday retail sales data and NRF’s consumer holiday surveys?

Retail sales figures are calculated by NRF based on data reported from the U.S. Census Bureau. NRF tallies retail sales — excluding automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants — typically covering the time period between November 1 through December 31 to determine holiday sales. Sales during these months include traditional holiday purchases as well as items not specifically for holiday celebrations. Separately, Prosper Insights & Analytics conducts surveys for NRF based on what consumers say they plan to spend specifically on holiday items such as gifts, decorations, food and other items to treat themselves or others.

Why do retailers put holiday merchandise on the shelves so early?

This year, approximately 46% of holiday shoppers will start browsing and buying seasonal items before Halloween, just below last year’s 49% but well above pre-pandemic norms. This year, inflation may be motivating many consumers to get a head start on the season. According to NRF’s consumer survey, this year, 44% of holiday shoppers believe it’s better to purchase holiday gifts and other items now, in case prices continue to rise, and another 31% believe the best deals are already available.

Retailers prepared to meet this consumer demand by moving up their peak shipping season to bring in product earlier than normal, stocking holiday merchandise earlier to ensure they have inventory in place for the start of the season and launching holiday sale events as early as October.

How is inflation impacting holiday shopping this year?

Higher prices and inflation are top of mind for consumers. NRF and Prosper’s monthly consumer survey found in October that 81% of holiday shoppers expect they will see higher prices when shopping for gifts and other items this season. And nearly two-thirds (63%) say that sales and promotions are more important to them this year than last year. Despite these economic challenges, nearly all (91%) consumers still plan to celebrate the holidays. Many are shopping early to spread out their budgets and taking advantage of deals and promotions in order to find the best value for themselves and their families this season.

Why doesn’t NRF produce an inflation-adjusted holiday sales forecast?

NRF forecasts retail sales, which are produced on a nominal basis, but we do not forecast expected inflation rates. Calculating a real, inflation-adjusted, growth number is much more complicated than subtracting inflation from nominal retail sales growth. Each individual area of retail has different inflation levels associated with it. Cars and groceries have had very high inflation while home goods and apparel inflation has been lower. We also need to adjust the entire series, so 2021 numbers would need to be adjusted as well in determining a real number for 2022. Our expectation is that we will have real, inflation-adjusted, growth for the holiday season. We don’t have an inflation-adjusted holiday sales number because we don’t know exactly where inflation will end up in the next couple of months. We are forecasting retail sales, not inflation. 

What role do Cyber Monday and Black Friday play in the holiday season?

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are part of the five-day shopping event that begins on Thanksgiving Day and continues through the following Monday. Typically, these five days represent some of the busiest shopping days of the year as consumers browse and buy online, in stores and, increasingly, on smartphones and other mobile devices. However, in recent years consumer behavior has shifted with many consumers preferring to spread their shopping out over the entire season. Retailers have adapted to ensure they are meeting consumers when and how they want to shop. Some retailers may choose to close on Thanksgiving Day while others spread out their “Black Friday” deals both in stores and online throughout the holiday season.

Is NRF affiliated with Small Business Saturday?

NRF is not officially affiliated with Small Business Saturday but supports any initiative to recognize the millions of small retail business establishments and their contributions to the economy and their communities. An estimated 90% of all U.S. retail companies employ 100 people or fewer.

What’s the difference between shopping and purchasing?

NRF defines shopping as browsing items with the intent to purchase, whether online or in stores. Purchasing is the act of actually buying a product.

Why have retailers changed their return policies?

Some retailers make return policies more lenient during the holiday season, understanding that there can be a lag time between when a gift is purchased and received. However, many retailers have also begun to change their return policies to account for an increase in return fraud.

What is the impact of returns on the holiday season?

Last year, retailers expected returns to amount to approximately 17.8% of their holiday sales. The vast majority of returns occur in January, after the winter holidays. In addition to returning items for a refund, many consumers use holiday returns as an opportunity to make an additional purchase or shop retailers’ post-holiday sales.

How are retailers addressing supply chain disruptions this holiday season?

Supply chain issues have been front and center for retailers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. From the onset of factory closures overseas to the import surge and congestion we are experiencing today, supply chain disruption is an ongoing issue that retailers have had to plan around to meet consumer demand. Retailers have implemented different mitigation strategies in anticipation of the holiday shopping season, including moving up their peak shipping season to bring in product earlier than normal. They have invested in enhanced technology that allows customers to see what products are currently in stock, if items are available at alternate locations, and how long items are expected to take for delivery. As with other consumer spending holidays, NRF encourages consumers to shop early so they are able to find the products they want and need on time.