Early holiday shopping boosts October retail sales

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Gains reflect strength of consumer finances

WASHINGTON – Early holiday shopping helped boost retail sales in October, the National Retail Federation said on Tuesday.

“Retail sales data for October reflects the enduring strength of consumers’ finances and willingness to spend as the holiday season gets underway,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “The robust balance sheets of American households are being met by retailer preparation and hard work to provide products that consumers want at competitive prices. Despite significant challenges including supply chain issues, labor shortages, rising inflation and OSHA’s impending employer vaccine mandate, retailers are continuing to safely serve consumers online and in stores. Today’s numbers show that consumers are getting a jump on their holiday shopping. We continue to urge consumers to shop early and shop safely, and we fully expect this holiday season to be one for the record books.”

NRFThe U.S. Census Bureau today said overall retail sales in October were up 1.7% seasonally adjusted from September and up 16.3% year-over-year. That compares with increases of 0.8% month-over-month and 14.3% year-over-year in September. Despite occasional month-over-month declines, sales have grown year-over-year every month since June 2020, according to Census data.

NRF’s calculation of retail sales – which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail – showed October was up 1.7% seasonally adjusted from September and up 10.8% unadjusted year-over-year. That compared with increases of 0.4% month-over-month and 10.9% year-over-year in September. NRF’s numbers were up 11.3% unadjusted year-over-year on a three-month moving average.

“October’s numbers highlight the retail industry’s ongoing hardiness now that we’re in the fourth quarter,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Consumers remain in high gear moving into the last months of the year. While it’s difficult to parse out exact amounts, the figures reflect the combined effects of Halloween and early holiday shopping. Even though consumers may have begun shopping early to avoid inventory shortages, November and December are still when they do most of their holiday shopping, so much remains ahead of us. Concerns about high prices are weighing on consumer sentiment, but that has not held back spending. As it has for more than a year-and-a-half, COVID-19 remains a significant factor should there be an increase in coronavirus infections that could cause a pullback in spending.”

October’s results come as NRF is forecasting another record-setting holiday season, with sales forecast to grow between 8.5% and 10.5% over 2020. While the NRF forecast defines the holiday season as November 1 through December 31, a record 49% of consumers surveyed this fall said they planned to begin their holiday shopping before November, with 36% doing so to avoid missing out on key holiday items.

For the first 10 months of the year, sales as calculated by NRF were up 14.1% over the same period in 2020. That is consistent with NRF’s forecast that retail sales for the full year should grow between 10.5% and 13.5% over 2020 to between $4.44 trillion and $4.56 trillion.

October sales were up in all but two categories on a monthly basis and were up across the board year-over-year, led by increases at clothing, electronics and sporting goods stores. Specifics from key sectors include:

  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 0.7% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 22.7% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Electronics and appliance stores were up 3.8% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 17.4% unadjusted year-over-year.
    Sporting goods stores were up 1.5% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 16.5% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • General merchandise stores were up 0.8% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 15.7% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 0.4% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 9.6% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 0.9% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 7.6% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Online and other non-store sales were up 4% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 7.4% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were up 2.8% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 6.5% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Health and personal care stores were down 0.6% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 5.4% unadjusted year-over-year.

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