Winter Holiday FAQs

A blue door with a holiday wreath hanging

What is NRF’s outlook for the 2023 holiday season?

NRF forecasts that holiday spending will reach record levels during November and December and will grow between 3% and 4% over 2022 to between $957.3 billion and $966.6 billion. Despite a slower growth rate compared with the past three years, when trillions of dollars of stimulus led to unprecedented rates of retail spending during the pandemic, this year’s holiday spending measures favorably with the average annual holiday increase of 3.6% from 2010 to 2019.  For more information or to receive additional updates, contact


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, retailers have responded to demand by offering earlier holiday deals and sales events for consumers who are eager to begin checking items off their list.

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

NRF expects retailers will hire between 345,000 and 450,000 seasonal workers. This is in line with 391,000 seasonal hires in 2022. Some of this hiring may have been pulled into October to support retailers’ holiday buying events in October.

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 seasonal items.

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

Similar to previous years, 43% of holiday shoppers say they generally start their holiday shopping before November. The top reasons people begin their shopping ahead of time are to spread out their budget (60%), avoid the stress of last-minute shopping (46%) and avoid crowds (45%). Regardless of how early consumers start, the majority (62%) expect they won’t finish until December.

Retailers have been preparing 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.

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

NRF forecasts retail sales, which are produced on a nominal basis, but does 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 and 2022 numbers would need to be adjusted as well in determining a real number for 2023. NRF expects we will have real, inflation-adjusted, growth for the holiday season. 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 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 17.9% 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. Learn more in our 2022 Consumer Returns in the Retail Industry report here.

How are retailers preparing to address potential supply chain disruptions this holiday season?

Retailers experienced a number of supply chain disruptions during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the strategies adopted to address disruptions during that time continue today. Retailers are continuing to bring products in earlier during their peak shipping season to ensure products are ready in-store and online for the holiday shopping season. 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.