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Retail sales slow in November

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NRF still expects happy holiday season for chains

WASHINGTON – Retail sales slipped in November compared to the month before, as the surging pandemic suppressed store traffic. But sales were still up compared to last November, and the National Retail Federation still expects a happy holiday season for retailers.

“Consumers held back on spending in November as virus rates spiked, states imposed retail restrictions and congressional stimulus discussions were gridlocked,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “While consumers have been bolstered by increases in disposable income and savings, it’s clear that additional fiscal stimulus from Congress is needed and we are hopeful it will be passed soon as we enter the final stretch of the holiday season. With retail sales up 8.8% versus November 2019, we still expect a strong holiday season compared with last year.”

The U.S. Census Bureau said today that overall retail sales in November were down 1.1% seasonally adjusted from October but up 4.1% year-over-year. That compares with a monthly drop of 0.1% but a yearly gain of 5.5% in October.

NRF’s calculation of retail sales – which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail – showed November was down 0.3% seasonally adjusted from October but up 8.8% unadjusted year-over-year. That compared with a decrease of 0.1% month-over-month and an increase of 10.5% year-over-year in October. NRF’s numbers were up 10.8% unadjusted year-over-year on a three-month moving average.

“The month-over-month decline isn’t surprising because some spending was pulled forward into October by campaigns encouraging consumers to shop early and shop safe,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Despite that, as we go into the final weeks of 2020, year-over-year trends show spending is holding up well regardless of month-to-month fluctuations. Nonetheless, we have to remember the remainder of the holiday season depends critically on the virus. We are optimistic, but spending could shift into a lower gear if the virus continues to spread.”

NRF says that monthly numbers fluctuate even when adjusted for seasonal variations, making year-over-year comparisons a better indication of long-term trends. On a year-over-year basis, retail sales have increased each month since May under NRF’s calculation and since June under the Census Bureau calculation. Retail sales during the first 11 months of the year were up 6.6%, according to NRF’s calculation.

NRF has forecast that holiday sales will increase between 3.6% and 5.2% over 2019 to a total between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion. While NRF defines the holiday season as November 1 through December 31, NRF research shows 42% of consumers started holiday shopping sooner than usual this year after NRF urged the public to shop safe and shop early. On average, consumers had about half their holiday shopping left to do as of Thanksgiving weekend.

November saw year-over-year gains in seven out of nine retail categories, led by double-digit increases for online sales, building materials and sporting goods stores.

Specifics from key retail sectors during November include:

  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 1.6% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 8.5% unadjusted year-over-year.
    Building materials and garden supply stores were up 1.1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 17.2% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Health and personal care stores were down 0.7% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 2.6% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • General merchandise stores were down 1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 1% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Online and other non-store sales were up 0.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 30% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sporting goods stores were down 0.6% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 14% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 1.1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 0.4% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Electronics and appliance stores were down 3.5% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and down 9.9% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 6.8% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and down 19.2% unadjusted year-over-year.

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