State of the Facts
The holiday shopping season is critically important for many retailers. But some businesses rely more on big increases in sales in November and December than others.
Five retail categories typically have their highest monthly sales in November and December, as the holiday shopping season ramps up. The top categories with the most sales in these months, according to Census Bureau’s Monthly Retail Trade Report, are clothing and accessories retailers, electronics and appliance stores, general merchandise stores, non-store retailers, and, furniture and home furnishings stores, each of which makes 19% or more of total sales in November and December. In 2020, during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, total retail sales increased by 0.5% compared to the year before. Some of the top-performing holiday sectors followed this trend, while others saw their revenues decrease.
Clothing and accessories retailers see big jumps in sales during the holidays. From 1992 to 2020, November and December account for about 23% of all revenue in the category. December is the biggest month for clothing retailers with 14% of all revenue. November is the second biggest month at 9.3%. Although sales are highest in November and December, the total monthly revenue for these months decreased 11.3% in 2020 compared to 2019.
Electronics and appliance stores also make 23% of their yearly revenue in November and December, from 1992 through 2020. About 9.6% of yearly sales are generated in November and 13.3% come in December. Sales in these months decreased almost 12% in 2020 compared to the same months in 2019.
General merchandise stores, which include department stores and warehouse-style stores, generated about 21.6% of monthly sales from 1992 to 2020 in November and December. Almost 12% of all retail sales in a year come from general merchandise stores. During the first year of the pandemic, the monthly average sales in 2020 increased by 3% compared to 2019. However, revenue for November and December remained the same in 2019 and 2020.
Non-store retailers are businesses that don’t have or don’t primarily depend on physical store locations. For example, this category would not include sales from a department store with an online sales site. About 21% of non-store retail sales come in November and December. Non-store retailers were not as affected by the pandemic and still saw big gains in the holiday season. Revenue for November and December in 2020 increased 22% compared to those months in 2019.
Furniture and home furnishings stores generated similar monthly revenues and shared trends with the electronics and appliance store category. November and December sales generated 19% of yearly sales from 1992 through 2020. Monthly revenue for November and December 2020 were almost 5% higher than the same months in 2019.
As of October 2021, American income and most spending have recovered from their pre-pandemic lows. Hourly earnings are increasing, coupled with a decrease in unemployment and a lower saving rate. These changes give Americans more money to spend at retail stores, especially on items that were not essential to pandemic life, like furniture and clothing. Retail sales and food services increased 0.5% from 2019 to 2020. After significant decreases in retail sales from February through April 2020, sales across all major categories returned to or surpassed pre-pandemic levels.
Continue to track retail sales and other indicators for economic recovery during this holiday season at the USAFacts Impact and Recovery Hub.
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