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As forecast, holiday sales up 4 percent

January 15, 2014

New York--Holiday retail sales for November and December were up nearly 4 percent this year, keeping with the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) prediction for the season.

According to data released Tuesday by the NRF, total sales for the two-month period hit $601.80 billion in 2013. Non-store sales, which gives an indicator of online and e-commerce sales, increased 9 percent to $95.7 billion.

“Retail sales have been volatile all year and the holiday shopping season was no exception,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Solid job growth in the months of October and November led to a more-confident consumer and healthy holiday shopping season for many retailers. While economic and policy uncertainties remain, the economy seems set for steady growth in the New Year.

“Undoubtedly, some of the increase came at the expense of margin. Retailers are still stressed and a long-term promotional environment may actually hurt the bottom line. As consumer confidence grows, there will be less need for retailers to heavily promote and discount their offerings,” Kleinhenz said.

The 3.8 percent increase in sales this holiday season was almost exactly in line with the NRF’s prediction of 3.9 percent sales growth for November and December.

December retail sales, excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants, were nearly flat, increasing by just 0.4 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month, and 4.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

The NRF reported last month that November retail sales increased nearly 1 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month, and 4 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

The company will release its 2014 retail sales estimates in February.

The U.S. Department of Commerce also released data for December sales on Tuesday, reporting that the month’s retail sales, including categories such as automobiles, gasoline stations, and restaurants, were essentially flat as compared with November, and up 4 percent year-over-year.

Sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores were up 2 percent seasonally month-over-month and non-store retailers’ sales increased 1 percent, while general merchandise stores’ sales were flat and electronics and appliance store sales decreased 3 percent.

“While today’s retail numbers continue to trend up, they are leveling off, indicating that we’re gradually reaching a point of greater stability,” said Laura Gurski, a partner and global leader of the Consumer Product & Retail Practice at global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney, about the data released by the Department of Commerce.

“Consumers had a great holiday season thanks to the deals and the discounting. However the full recovery hasn’t reached everybody by any means, and factors to consider include higher taxes, employment levels and what’s happening with health care,” she said, adding that she predicts there will continue to be a leveling off in retail growth in 2014.