Holiday Homestretch: Retail Sales Are Right on Track

Coming into the final days of the holiday season, we see that there are two types of people: those who bought their gifts early, and those who intend to run into stores on Christmas Eve, scrambling to get all of their gifts in order. With both groups, retailers reap the benefits, and they are right on track to meet our 3%–4% sales growth forecast. Overall, holiday retail sales are expected to reach a record $645–$651 billion this year.

US Holiday Retail Sales and Growth Rate

Holiday sales growth

Those who shopped early helped retailers rake in record sales on Thanksgiving and Black Friday—$5.27 billion’s worth, to be exact. The prepared ones also used Cyber Monday as an opportunity to take advantage of deep discounts, and retailers saw $3.45 billion in online sales that day.

Those who are procrastinating until the last minute are benefiting from a lengthened holiday shopping season and a positive holiday calendar this year. Late shoppers have two extra shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, for a total of 31 days compared with 29 last year. Accordingly, Friday, December 23, is expected to be the biggest shopping day of the season, bringing in big dollars for retailers. Both Wednesday and Thursday, December 21 and 22, are expected to rake in those procrastinator dollars as well. And for those who really wait until the last minute, Christmas Eve and the first day of Chanukah fall on the same day this year, so holiday purchases will get an extra boost that day, a beneficial coincidence for retailers.

US Holiday Retail Sales and Growth Rate

For those who were looking to do most of their shopping online, the deadline for guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve has come and gone. Free Shipping Day (December 16), just nine days before Christmas, created a buzz the day before the busiest shopping day of the season, Super Saturday (December 17). While sales for Super Saturday weekend were strong, they were nearly equivalent to last year’s, according to The NPD Group; bad weather played a significant part in this in the upper third of the country due to snow and ice throughout the weekend. That meant many people stayed home, shopping from the comfort of their couches and boosting online sales, particularly from retailers such as Amazon, which guaranteed on-time holiday delivery for orders placed up until two days before Christmas. The NRF expects total online sales to increase by up to 10%, and reach $117 billion, during the holiday season this year.

This year’s calendar played a significant role in flat traffic over Super Saturday. There was not the same sense of urgency as normally associated with the final Saturday before Christmas (or before Christmas Eve this year, as Christmas Eve falls on a Saturday) because there were still six shopping days to go before the holiday.

In the final days leading up to the holidays, we can expect to see those last-minute shoppers getting on their feet and heading out to the stores, as their online options have dwindled. Some of the largest holiday shopping days are still to come, and many can find comfort knowing that holiday gifts are still on the way!

Other pieces you might find interesting: Merry and Bright Holiday Season for Retailers, DEEP DIVE: Holiday Shopping Themes 2016—the US and the UK, DEEP DIVE: US Holiday Outlook 2016—Prospects for a Better Season

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