NRF: Economic Uncertainty, Fiscal Cliff Dampened Holiday Sales

— January 16, 2013

Solid consumer spending in the month of December helped retailers finish the year with a healthy holiday shopping season, however economic uncertainties sent cautious consumers to the stores. According to the National Retail Federation, December retail sales (excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) increased 0.8 percent seasonally adjusted from November and increased 2.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

Total holiday retail sales increased 3.0 percent, below NRF's projected forecast of 4.1, to $579.8 billion. Additionally, non-store holiday sales grew 11.1 percent. Shop.org in October forecasted a 12.0 percent growth in online sales in the months of November and December.

"For over six months, we've been saying that the fiscal cliff and economic uncertainty could impact holiday sales. As the number shows, these issues had a visible impact on consumer spending this holiday season," NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said. "We can't expect consumers to continue to carry the burden of growing our economy—Washington must put political differences aside and do what it takes to get our country growing again and Americans back to work."

December retail sales, released by the U.S. Department of Commerce, showed total retail and food services sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as automobiles, gasoline stations, and restaurants) increased 0.5 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month and increased 4.7 percent adjusted year-over-year.

"While non-store retail sales increased a hearty 11 percent this December, total December sales could not make up for shortfalls in certain categories like electronics," NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. "Heading into 2013, consumers could continue to think twice about their discretionary purchases as they face decreases in their paychecks and other concerns with their household budgets."

Other findings from the December retail sales report include:

  • Clothing and clothing accessories stores' sales increased 1.0 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 2.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Electronics and appliance stores' sales decreased 0.6 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and decreased 0.4 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Furniture and home furnishing stores' sales increased 1.4 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 3.0 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • General merchandise stores' sales were unchanged seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and decreased 3.4 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Health and personal care stores' sales increased 1.4 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and decreased 0.7 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Nonstore retailers' sales increased 0.5 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 9.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores' sales increased 0.6 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 4.7 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

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