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US retail sales fall for third straight month in December; 2020 holiday sales rise 8.3%

Total sales for the period from October to December 2020 were up 4% from the same period a year ago

According to a report by the US Census Bureau, adjusted retail and food services sales totaled $540.9 billion in December 2020, down 0.7% from November 2020 but up 2.9% from December 2019. Total sales for 2020 rose 0.6% from 2019. Total sales for the period from October to December 2020 were up 4% from the same period a year ago.

In December 2020, food and beverage sales rose 8.9% from December 2019 but dropped 1.4% from November 2020. Health and personal care sales grew 5.8% year-over-year and 1.1% from the previous month. Clothing and clothing accessories sales fell 16% from last December but rose 2.4% from November 2020.

Furniture and home furnishing stores saw sales rise 3.1% year-over-year in December 2020 but compared to November 2020, sales dropped 0.6%. Electronics and appliance stores saw sales decrease 16.6% versus last year and 4.9% versus last month. Building material and garden supplies sales rose 17% from last year and 0.9% from last month.

Sales from sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores rose 15.2% year-over-year but fell 0.8% from last month. Sales from non-store retailers rose 19.2% year-over-year but dropped 5.8% from last month. Food services sales saw a decline of 21.2% year-over-year and 4.5% from last month.

Holiday sales growth

Meanwhile, retail sales during the November-December 2020 holiday season jumped 8.3% to $789.4 billion compared to the same period in 2019, according to a report by the National Retail Federation.  This includes online and other non-stores sales which grew 23.9% to $209 billion.

The NRF had predicted that sales for the 2020 holiday season would increase 3.6-5.2% over 2019 to a range of $755.3-766.7 billion. It had also projected an increase of 20-30% in online sales to a range of $202.5-218.4 billion.

On average, holiday sales have increased 3.5% for the past five years. In 2019, holiday sales rose 4%. This year’s growth rate was more than double both these numbers despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report by NRF stated that during the holiday season, consumers spent money on gifts in order to lift their spirits and gain a sense of normalcy amid the restrictions and difficulties brought on by the pandemic. Consumers were able to spend more on gifts as they had not spent much on travel, dining out or other entertainment activities during the year. There is also a sense of optimism due to the availability of COVID-19 vaccines.

Due to the challenging environment this year, several retailers spread their deals throughout the holiday season in order to minimize crowds and reduce the stress for their customers. Many retailers witnessed an increase in their online sales and opted to keep their stores closed on Thanksgiving Day. Some plan on continuing this trend in 2021.

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