US holiday sales grew 5.3% in 2022, missing forecast: NRF

Ecommerce sales grew 9.5%, which was also short of the retail trade group's expected results.

bauble balls in the box

U.S. holiday retail sales fell short of the forecast for the season, according to the National Retail Federation.

Data released Wednesday by the NRF for sales in November and December showed the following:

  • Holiday sales totaled $936.3 billion, representing 5.3% growth over 2021.
  • The NRF had predicted 6-8% growth for the holidays.
  • Ecommerce and nonstore sales for the season rose 9.5% to $261.6 billion. This also fell below the forecast of 10-12%.
  • Retail sales for the full year of 2022 totaled $4.9 trillion, growing 7% over 2021.

The news came on the same day that the U.S. Commerce Department reported that total U.S. retail sales for December fell by 1.1% from the month before. It marked the second straight monthly decline, while year-over-year growth slowed to 6%.

On the holiday results, NRF leaders said the collision of elevated inflation and the Fed’s efforts to cool prices and demand by raising interest rates were drivers of the lower-than-expected growth. The comparison with 2021 was also tough, given that prior year saw record levels of growth at 13.5% amid unprecedented demand for goods. NRF CEO Matthew Shay called the results “respectable” in the economic environment.

“Consumers shopped in record numbers and retailers delivered positive holiday experiences to inflation-wary consumers, offering great products at more promotional price levels to fit their stretched budgets,” said Shay, in a statement. “The fact that we saw retail sales growth on top of December’s 14% gain in 2022 shows the resilience of consumers and the creativity of retailers in driving consumption and economic activity while addressing high inflation and continued cost pressures.”

a chart showing holiday retail sales, 2002-2022(Source: National Retail Federation)

With consumers spending more on gas and food this year, discounts were a key driver of holiday sales throughout the season. Retailers offered deals beginning in October in an effort to deliver. The results of those fall events are outside these holiday totals.

“We knew it could be touch-and-go for final holiday sales given early shopping in October that likely pulled some sales forward plus price pressures and cold, stormy weather,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “The pace of spending was choppy, and consumers may have pulled back more than we had hoped, but these numbers show that they navigated a challenging, inflation-driven environment reasonably well. The bottom line is that consumers are still engaged and shopping despite everything happening around them.”

In updates that held back full numbers, retailers have posted mixed results for the holidays so far. Macy’s talked of “lulls” during the weeks between Black Friday and Christmas. Abercrombie and American Eagle Outfitters said they had successful holidays. Lululemon warned that its profit would be lower than expected. More will be learned when retailers report earnings for the fourth quarter over the next two months.

NRF’s sales totals are not adjusted for inflation, and leave aside restaurants and auto categories to focus on core retail. Results in other categories include:

  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 7.8%.
  • General merchandise stores were up 3.8%.
  • Sporting goods stores were up 3.5%.
  • Health and personal care stores were up 2.8%.
  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 2.2%.
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were up 1.5%.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 1.1%.
  • Electronics and appliance stores were down 5.7%.
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