Early Holiday Shopping Sent October Sales Soaring

Sales sizzled for appliance and CE retailers last month.

By Alan Wolf, YSN

Spooked by warnings of empty shelves and the prospect of higher prices, consumers began their holiday shopping in earnest in October.

The retail frenzy sent October sales soaring 16.3 percent over last year and 1.7 percent over September, according to U.S. Commerce Department estimates, exceeding economists’ forecasts.

Once again, appliance and electronics stores helped lead the charge, just behind apparel, with sales up 18.4 percent year over year to about $8.1 billion, and ahead 3.8 percent from September.

Business was none too shabby for furniture retailers either.  Sales rose 12 percent from last year for the home furnishings channel and edged up 0.4 percent from September.

By comparison, online-only retailers and other direct-to-consumer sellers saw October sales increase 10.2 percent from last year and 4 percent from September, while total retail sales excluding gas stations, restaurants and car dealers were up 15 percent over October 2020.

Shortage and inflation fears aside, analysts say the strong start to the holiday selling season speaks to a consumer who’s reaping the sky-high stock and housing prices and is flush with COVID-period cash. “Consumers say they’re pessimistic — we have had very high inflation — but the truth is they’re in very good shape right now,” Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group, told The Wall Street Journal. Fueling the holiday free-for-all are low interest rates and an estimated $2 trillion in excess savings that households have accrued since the pandemic, he said.

The October numbers also bode well for a strong finish to the year. “Even though consumers may have begun shopping early to avoid inventory shortages, November and December are still when they do most of their holiday shopping, so much remains ahead of us,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the National Retail Federation (NRF). The trade group is forecasting a record spend for November and December that could hit $859 billion.

Added NRF CEO Matthew Shay, “We fully expect this holiday season to be one for the record books.”