The National Retail Federation expects consumers to remain resilient, despite inflation.
The National Retail Federation expects consumers to remain resilient, despite inflation.
One of the most-watched projections for peak shopping season is in: Holiday sales in the US are expected to be "healthy" in 2022, even as growth slows from pandemic-era records, according to a new forecast from the trade association for retailers.
The news: Holiday retail sales are projected to grow 6-8% on an annual basis in 2022, according to a forecast from the National Retail Federation. That would put spending between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 between $942.6 billion and $960.4 billion.
This year's pre-holiday picture of the consumer economy is being shaped by inflation and the Federal Reserve's efforts to cool demand. However, retail sales have held up in the months leading up to the high shopping season, and NRF expects that trend to continue.
“While consumers are feeling the pressure of inflation and higher prices, and while there is continued stratification with consumer spending and behavior among households at different income levels, consumers remain resilient and continue to engage in commerce,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “In the face of these challenges, many households will supplement spending with savings and credit to provide a cushion and result in a positive holiday season.”
Below are more takeaways from the forecast, which factors in a range of economic factors, from consumer spending and disposable income to employment and weather. It excludes spending at automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.
The growth would slow from last year. In 2021, holiday sales grew 13.5% over 2020 and totaled $889.3 billion. That broke records at a time when goods were in high demand. This followed 2020, which had set the record in itself with a 9.3% increase. The average increase over the last 10 years is 4.9%.
While sales growth outpace inflation? This year’s holiday season arrives at a time of 40-year-high inflation. So, when it comes to calculating growth, the question is whether spending totals will outpace the rise in prices. Based on NRF's measure, this forecast would put growth of spending slightly ahead of price increases. In September, the measure of inflation from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis’ personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index that drops out categories like energy and auto sales was running at a 4-5% increase year-over-year, according to NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. So 6-8% growth would be ahead of that. Other inflation rates are more in the range of the forecast. The Consumer Price Index's core measure showed a 6.6% increase in September. While these rates may vary, a clearer answer may lie in whether the volume of goods purchased rises, alongside price.
NRF's forecast is in the range of growth in retail sales over recent months. According to the NRF’s own calculation, which backs out sales of gas, cars and restaurants to focus on core categories, retail sales rose 7.2% year-over-year in September.
It’s also in line with other forecasts. A group of initial holiday season forecasts released in September had similar ranges, even if NRF was slightly more optimistic by suggesting the potential for 8% growth. Deloitte's range is 4-6%, AlixPartners expects 4-7% growth, while MasterCard projects 7.1%. Bain & Co. expects 7.5% growth.
NRF's measure of holiday sales growth. (Courtesy photo)
Ecommerce is expected to outpace overall retail sales. Online and non-store sales are expected to grow 10-12% during the holidays, which would net $262.8 billion-$267.6 billion. Ecommerce grew its profile among consumers during the pandemic, and will “remain important,” even as consumers return to in-store shopping in more numbers this year.
Holiday deals started earlier. The time range of the forecast means it doesn’t account for all of the holiday sales this year. Amazon, Walmart, Target and Wayfair all ran early holiday deals events during October, signaling a push to capture those consumers spreading out their purchases. “While this may result in some sales being pulled forward, we expect to see continued deals and promotions throughout the remaining months,” said Kleinhenz.
Here are several more economic trends shaping this year’s holiday spending:
A strong labor market. A continuing tight labor market has been a head-scratcher for the Federal Reserve as it seeks to bring down inflation, but it’s a boon for retail spending. Jobs numbers for October released Friday by the Labor Department showed the economy continues to create new jobs, and the unemployment rate still at a historically low 3.7% despite moving higher. Wages grew 4.7% from a year ago. The income stability offered by the robust job market will carry over to gifts and personal purchases, Kleinhenz said.
Household stratification. Inflation is affecting households differently. Higher-income and middle-income households are continuing to spend. But lower income households are “feeling the pinch,” in being able to afford gas, groceries, and other everyday essentials, said Shay. With discretionary spending more limited as the costs of gas and food are up, people are also looking for discounts.
Savings and credit. While inflation is bringing challenges, consumers still have savings built up from the pandemic to spend on holiday gifts. NRF expects many will also turn to credit to fund purchases, which will in turn buoy spending.
Plus, check out peak holiday shopping weekend results shared by Klaviyo, Wayfair and Ace Hardware.
At Amazon, 2022 delivered the "biggest ever" Thanksgiving weekend to date.
ustomers purchased a record number of products from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, the company said in a news release Wednesday. Amazon did not disclose sales figures, while sharing that “hundreds of millions” of products were purchased.
"This was a record-breaking holiday shopping weekend for Amazon,” said Doug Herrington, Amazon’s CEO of Worldwide Stores, in a statement. “Customers shopped millions of deals this weekend and we have many more amazing deals to come.”
It came as record sales and traffic were reported for US ecommerce as a whole during the peak shopping weekend.
Despite the growth, Amazon is still expressing a cautious approach that led it to forecast more tepid sales growth over 2021 for the all-important holiday quarter. According to Bloomberg, CEO Andy Jassy said Wednesday that inflation is leading shoppers to seek deals.
“Consumers are spending, but they’re being careful about trying to stretch their dollar,” Jassy said at the New York Times DealBook conference.
This year, Amazon sought to get an early jump on the shopping holidays to reach bargain hunters. It began Black Friday deals on Thanksgiving, as many shoppers turned to their phones after dinner. For Cyber Monday, deals started on Saturday.
Over the Turkey 5, the best-selling categories were home, fashion, toys, beauty and Amazon devices. Electronics including Echo Dot, Fire TV Stick, and Apple AirPods were the best-selling items. Other top sellers included Hasbro Gaming Connect 4, Burt’s Bees Christmas gifts, apparel from Champion, apparel and shoes from New Balance, the Amazon smart plug, Echo Show and Nintendo Switch.
Amazon said that more than $1 billion in sales were generated for US small businesses through the weekend. This includes third-party sellers that offer goods on Amazon’s marketplace and access its logistics services through Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA).
“If the news of Amazon having the best Black Friday weekend in company history is any clue, it was historic for 3P sellers in many ways,” said Jon Elder, who consults with Amazon sellers as founder and CEO of Black Label Advisor.
Elder said that the vast majority of FBA sellers experienced “tremendous” year-over-year growth through the weekend.
“Sellers noticed that customers were hungry for deals like never before and coupons played especially well,” Elder said. “Some sellers opted to not sign up for deals and still experienced historic traffic and sales.”
Sellers also ramped up PPC, or pay-per-click, in which brands and sellers access sponsored product space to appear in prominent positions on the highly-trafficked marketplace.
“With inflation on the rise, it was more important than ever to increase brand awareness through PPC ads, including video ads. Expect to see brands make this a ‘best practice’ going forward,” Elder said.
Despite all the sales ringing up, Black Friday did bring one curve ball, as a glitch in Amazon’s ad tools led to inaccurate reporting of spend that misled brands and advertisers. According to Business Insider, the sitewide reporting error caused agencies and other ad buyers to either overspend, or miss out on sales as a result of underspending. While a spokesperson said the issue was fixed, it caused a state of confusion on retail’s most important day of the year, as many were forced to wait for a fix.
Nevertheless, the weekend's overall results serve as a reminder that the Thanksgiving shopping period remains the largest weekend of the year for ecommerce, even as Amazon has introduced Prime Day and this year’s early October holiday kickoff event, which it dubbed Prime Early Access Sale.
The Prime sale events are “unique to the Amazon ecosystem, but many Americans simply don’t show up for those events as much because of the time of the year," Elder said.
"Black Friday weekend remains king and the numbers prove that."
Here are a few more key data points over the Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend that were shared this week:
How many sales do the volumes of messages being sent by brands account for? One of the largest platforms is offering hard numbers. Klaviyo, which serves direct-to-consumer businesses, said revenue attributed to its SMS and email marketing messages reached $2.2 billion during Black Friday-Cyber Monday. That represents a 46% increase in dollars over 2021, while total order count reached 34% year-over-year. The growth was even more staggering in SMS-attributed sales alone, which grew 200% in dollars and $190 in order count.
Black Friday was the highest day for message sends, but Cyber Monday closed the gap from 2021, with 47% growth.
This came after businesses using the platform sent a combined 10.7 billion emails and text messages—up 41% from 2021.
While Klaviyo’s growth is likely a factor, it’s a fair bet that a shift toward owned marketing channels following Apple’s App Tracking Transparency played a role in this growth.
A pair of retailers in the furniture and home improvement categories released sales results showing growth.
Wayfair, the furniture home goods marketplace, reported a “low single digit sales increase” over 2021 for Thanksgiving weekend. Over the five days, 73% of the orders were from repeat customers, while “hundreds of thousands” of new customers ordered from Wayfair for the first time. Wayfair said its revenue strengthened following an early November earnings call, in which the company shared its revenue was down 10% quarter-to-date.
Ace Hardware, meanwhile, may known for its local stores, but ecommerce was the focus of its holiday update. Black Friday brought a record online sales day for the home improvement and tools retailer, posting 45% growth over 2021. Cyber Monday also saw a year-over-year jump of 33%. Ace said demand spiked for grills and smokers, electric mowers and snow blowers, while power tools also remained a popular category. In all, Ace saw a 33% increase in ecommerce sales over 2021 during the five-day weekend.
Ace sells through its ecommerce site, but its omnichannel model remains heavily linked to its neighborhood-level stores. The company said that 90% of online orders are either picked up in store, at curbside or delivered by store associates.
“Our continuous investments in the digital and omnichannel shopping experience make it easy for customers to shop Ace any way they prefer," said Bill Kiss, head of digital at Ace Hardware, in a statement.