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Holiday sales edge up in food, drug, mass retail arena

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NEW YORK — For 2015, the food, drug and mass retail channel saw holiday sales growth in line with that of recent years.

Total sales for discount stores grew 3.3% for the 28-day period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, compared with 3.5% in 2014, according to research by Racher Press, the publisher of MMR. Same-store sales edged up 1.1% this season, down slightly from 1.3% in 2014.

Drug stores posted the channel’s largest gains, with total sales up 4.1% and same-store results up 1.8% in the 2015 holiday season. That compares with increases of 4.3% and 1.8%, respectively, a year earlier.

Meanwhile, supermarkets saw sales grow 2.7% overall and 1.2% on a same-store basis in the 2015 season, compared with 2.9% and 1.3%, respectively, in 2014.

MasterCard SpendingPulse tallied stronger holiday sales growth for the overall retail market. Excluding auto and gas, U.S. retail sales climbed 7.9% during the Black Friday to Christmas Eve shopping season, according to MasterCard, which assessed retail sales trends across cards, cash and checks.

This season, MasterCard said, the top winners were e-commerce and furniture, which saw double-digit sales gains, while electronics and men’s apparel lagged well behind. E-commerce grew about 20% compared with last year, which MasterCard said reflects recent findings that 70% of U.S. consumers report doing more research online than before.

The apparel category saw high-single-digit growth from Black Friday to Christmas Eve. But the sales story differed by segment: Women’s apparel sales rose by double-digits, while men’s apparel sales decreased. MasterCard added that pent-up demand played out after Black Friday because the delay in the coming of cold weather pushed back fall apparel purchases.

Lower gas prices gave a lift to shoppers. Total retail sales, excluding auto and fuel, across all card and payment types grew 4.6% from November through December versus last year, while growth including gas was 2.7%, MasterCard reported. The payments giant said those figures highlight the fact that consumers are spending the money they’re saving at the pump.

“After a slow start, I’m very happy to see that the holiday season was hot for retailers,” commented Sarah Quinlan, senior vice president of market insights for MasterCard Advisors. “We saw some very promising trends. The double-digit growth in furniture sales, for instance, shows that consumers are willing and able to splurge on big-ticket items. E-commerce’s rise is a solid indication of an empowered and savvy shopper. We’ll be watching to see if this behavior continues into 2016.”

One notable characteristic of the 2015 holiday shopping season was consumers making major purchases early or late. According to the National Retail Federation’s final consumer holiday spending survey of the season, the average holiday shopper finished 53.5% of her or his shopping by mid-December. Just 10% of consumers said they had completed their holiday shopping — meaning that 90% still had items to buy.

“While we witnessed an early start to the holiday shopping season and an extraordinary Thanksgiving weekend, some of the busiest shopping days of the year are still to come,” NRF president and chief executive officer Matthew Shay stated when the survey results were released. “We expect retailers will be competitive on price and value options in the final stretch, including extended store hours and in-store events, as well as online deals and free shipping offers. Even an unseasonably warm winter cannot keep last-minute shoppers from putting off their holiday purchases anymore.”

In a blog post about this year’s burst of Thanksgiving Day shopping, Shay said that “reports of the death of Black Friday are premature.” He noted that 99 million consumers said they planned to shop on Black Friday this year, compared with 87 million in 2014. At the same time, 30 million consumers indicated they would shop on Thanksgiving Day this year to take advantage of retailers’ early openings and “doorbuster” deals.

“There has been a very visible shift in the how, when, where, why and who of holiday promotions that has had a profound impact on the importance of Black Friday,” he observed, explaining that the Black Friday experience isn’t going away but is being extended. “This broad new range of shopping options offers other types of value to consumers who consider flexibility and convenience as important as price. It’s all about giving consumers what they want when they want it.”

Heading into the final week of shopping before Christmas Day, the International Council of Shopping Centers reported that U.S. consumers were on pace to spend an average of $690 this holiday season. That figure includes about $570 for holiday-related gifts/items, $93 for food and beverages for holiday events, and nearly $27 for holiday-related personal services.


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