In what proved to be a “tough” season for retail, holiday 2015 sales increased 3 percent to $626.14 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

The figure, reported Friday, was lower than the 3.7 percent projection made last year. It includes November and December in-store and online sales, but excludes automobiles, gas stations and restaurants.

Non-store holiday sales alone, which include e-commerce, kiosks and direct-to-consumer, grew 9 percent to $105 billion.

The NRF characterized the 3 percent gain as “solid growth considering the unforeseen weather events across the country and extreme deflationary retail environment.”

The NRF also reported that December retail sales [excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants] decreased 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted from November and increased 3.1 percent unadjusted on a year-over-year basis.

“Make no mistake about it, this was a tough holiday season for the industry,” said NRF president and chief executive officer Matthew Shay. “Weather, inventory challenges, advances in consumer technology and the deep discounts that started earlier in the season and that have carried into January presented stiff headwinds as retailers competed with one another and their own bottom line. Despite these factors, the industry rallied, consumers responded and sales still grew at a healthy rate, which is a huge testament to the resilience, knowledge and expertise of our retail leadership.”

“While some will attempt to diminish this positive outcome, the fact remains that retail continues to play an important role in growing our economy,” Shay added

“A double whammy of deflation and December weather constricted holiday sales growth as well as consumer spending,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. “The results of December’s retail sales remind us just how significant of an impact unusual weather can have on retail and overall economic activity. While the timing is uncertain there are positive prospects for improvement, including recent job gains that will help lift income and earnings, and a healthy housing market that should provide some support for spending in various retail sectors.”

The difficult holiday season, and the implications for the seasons ahead, will be a major topic at NRF’s annual convention and expo, called “The Big Show” running Sunday through Wednesday at the Javits Center in Manhattan.

The U.S. Commerce Department said on Friday that total December retail sales decreased 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month and increased 2.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

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