Retailers Begin the New Year on a Roll

By Alan Wolf, YSN

Retailers largely ended 2019 on an up note, posting solid sales gains for the month of December.

According to the latest estimates from the U.S. Department of  Commerce, total retail sales for the last month of the last decade rose 6 percent, to $464.5 billion. The tally was adjusted for seasonal variation and for holiday and trading day differences, but not for price changes.

Leading the pack as usual were pureplay e-tailers and other non-store direct sellers, who enjoyed a 19.2 percent lift year over year, to $66.8 billion. Furniture and home furnishings shops also fared well, ending the holiday period up 3.2 percent over last year’s haul, to $9.9 billion.

Appliance retailers, which the Commerce Department lumps together with consumer tech sellers, had a softer holiday ending, with year-over-year sales slipping 0.7 percent for both channels, to $8.1 billion. The good news: despite continued price compression in electronics, business was up from November, with an increase of 0.6 percent.

Overall, retailers were aided by a strong economy, a confident consumer and a calendar shift that partially pushed the extended Thanksgiving Day weekend into December.

“This was a healthy holiday season, especially compared with the decline in retail sales we saw at the end of the season in 2018,” commented Jack Kleinhenz, Chief Economist of the National Retail Federation (NRF), the leading retail trade group. “Despite a late Thanksgiving and worries about tariffs, the consumer didn’t go away. We’ve had months of strong employment numbers, high wages and strong household balance sheets. There’s no doubt that gave consumers a sense of confidence about their ability to spend, and they did their part to keep the economy moving.”