Winter Holiday FAQs

A blue door with a holiday wreath hanging

What is NRF’s prediction for holiday sales growth this year?

NRF expects that holiday sales during November and December will grow between 8.5 percent and 10.5 percent over 2020 to between $843.4 billion and $859.0 billion. The numbers, which exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, compare with a previous high of 8.2 percent in 2020 to $777.3 billion and an average increase of 4.4 percent over the past five years.


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 events such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. However, many consumers start browsing holiday items and sales earlier than that. Typically, at least 40 percent of consumers plan to kickstart their holiday shopping by the end of October.

What percentage of annual retail sales do the holidays represent?

Overall, holiday sales in November and December have averaged about 19 percent of annual 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.

What percentage of holiday sales occur online?

NRF expects that online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total forecast, will increase between 11 percent and 15 percent to a total of between $218.3 billion and $226.2 billion driven by online purchases. By comparison, that number is up from $196.7 billion in 2020.

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

NRF expects retailers will hire between 500,000 and 665,000 seasonal workers this year. That compares with 486,000 seasonal hires in 2020. Some of this hiring may have been pulled into October as many retailers have encouraged households to shop early to avoid a lack of inventory and shipping delays. With the earlier start retailers have announced thousands of open positions in bricks-and-mortar stores and warehouse and distribution centers.

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 not only include traditional holiday purchases but also 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?

Each year about 40 percent of consumers begin their holiday shopping before Halloween. And retailers respond accordingly. Given the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on supply chains, retailers are stocking their holiday merchandise earlier to ensure they have inventory in place both in stores and online for the start of the season.

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 may choose to close on Thanksgiving Day; others spread out their “Black Friday” deals; and others will be featuring the same 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 percent 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 13.3% 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. In 2019, NRF and Prosper Insights & Analytics found that three-quarters (74%) of holiday shoppers said they were likely to make an additional purchase at a retailer when returning or exchanging holiday gifts.

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 retailers have had to plan around in order 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 the find the products they want and need on time.