By Lenore Fedow
Retail sales from November to December reached $789.4 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
Washington—Retail sales persevered this holiday season in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the 2020 November-December holiday season, sales were up more than 8 percent to $789.4 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

The figure includes online and non-store sales, which were up 24 percent year-over-year to $209 billion.

The numbers exceeded NRF’s holiday forecast, which expected to see an increase between 3.6 percent and 5.2 percent over 2019 to a total between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion.

Online sales also surpassed expectations, initially forecast to rise between 20 percent and 30 percent to between $202.5 billion and $218.4 billion.

The NRF’s numbers exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.

“Despite unprecedented challenges, consumers and retailers demonstrated incredible resilience this holiday season,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a press release. 

“Faced with rising transmission of the virus, state restrictions on retailers and heightened political and economic uncertainty, consumers chose to spend on gifts that lifted the spirits of their families and friends and provided a sense of normalcy given the challenging year.”

The 8 percent growth was more than double the 3.5 percent average holiday increase over the previous five years, including a 4 percent gain in 2019.

Consumers hit the ground running in December, marking a strong finish to the holiday season, said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz, which could signal continuing economic recovery this year.

Shoppers had money to spend this holiday season, due to stimulus payments as well as money saved from not traveling, going out to eat, or attending events, he noted.

“Some families are still struggling, as are some retail sectors. But the promise of a new round of stimulus checks after a deal was struck before Christmas helped increase consumer confidence,” said Kleinhenz.

The news of COVID-19 vaccines becoming available was also encouraging to consumers, he said.

Holiday-related spending was especially strong in the third and fourth weeks of December, when it was too late to shop online and receive gifts by Christmas.

Consumers took trips to physical stores and made use of Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store (BOPIS) and curbside pick-up options.

Six out of nine retail categories posted year-over-year gains, including double-digit increases for online sales, building materials stores and sporting goods stores.

Declines were seen in general merchandise stores, electronics and appliance stores, and clothing and clothing accessory stores.

The stimulus proposal set forth by President-elect Joe Biden, which includes direct payments to families and individuals and aid for small businesses, will help the economy continue to grow, said Shay.

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