“We are encouraged by another positive retail sales number for October — the sixth consecutive positive monthly gain — as early holiday shopping provided a strong boost to the data,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Overall, retail sales were up 10.6% in October 2020 versus October 2019, and for the first 10 months of this year, retail sales were up 6.4% versus the first 10 months of 2019.
“Consumers have proven their resilience and willingness to spend as we head into the heart of the holiday season and retailers continue to demonstrate their commitment and ability to ensure safe shopping environments for their customers and their associates, with deep discounts, robust inventory and great experiences whether in-store or online,” Shay said.
NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz noted that the strong results for October came despite the pandemic’s continued impact on households and businesses.
“The steady expansion of retail sales is good news against the background of these unusual economic circumstances and climbing virus cases in recent weeks,” Kleinhenz said. “Early holiday shopping appears to have supported October’s increase in sales. The rise in COVID-19 cases continues to be a factor that weighs on consumer perceptions, sentiment and spending and there could be retrenchment if we cannot thwart this latest wave. Nonetheless, retailers are well prepared to safely fulfill holiday shopping lists, and the October results suggest so far, so good.”
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that overall retail sales in October were up 0.3% seasonally adjusted from September and up 5.7% year-over-year. That built on increases of 1.6% month-over-month and 5.9% year-over-year in September.
NRF’s calculation of retail sales – which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail – showed October was up 0.2% seasonally adjusted from September and up 10.6% unadjusted year-over-year. That compared with increases of 0.9% month-over-month and 12.9% year-over-year in September. NRF’s numbers were up 10% unadjusted year-over-year on a three-month moving average.
October’s sales results come as NRF’s latest research shows that 42%t of consumers started their holiday shopping earlier than usual this year. NRF has urged consumers to shop safe and shop early, and 59% had begun by early November, up from 49% at that point a decade ago. Consumers surveyed for NRF by Prosper Insights & Analytics plan to spend an average $997.79, down $50 from 2019 as they focus on gifts for others rather than purchases for themselves.
October gains were led by online sales, which were up both month-over-month and year-over-year thanks largely to the shift of Amazon Prime Day and related online promotions to October from July. Seven out of nine retail categories saw year-over-year increases.
Specifics from key retail sectors during October include:
- Online and other non-store sales were up 3.1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 26.3% unadjusted year-over-year.
- Electronics and appliance stores were up 1.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but down 3.3% unadjusted year-over-year.
- Building materials and garden supply stores were up 0.9% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 17% unadjusted year-over-year.
- Health and personal care stores were down 0.1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 3.1% unadjusted year-over-year.
- Grocery and beverage stores were down 0.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 11.6% unadjusted year-over-year.
- Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 0.4% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 5.8% unadjusted year-over-year.
- General merchandise stores were down 1.1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 4.8% unadjusted year-over-year.
- Sporting goods stores were down 4.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 14.1% unadjusted year-over-year.
- Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 4.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and down 11.3% unadjusted year-over-year.