Thanksgiving weekend draws nearly 190 million shoppers, spending up 16 percent
Retail sales in November, and especially around the Thanksgiving/Black Friday period are some of the most important sales data in all of retail. And this year’s numbers are even more important than ever before.
Per the analysts at the National Retail Federation, retail sales in November increased 0.1 percent seasonally adjusted over October and were up 2.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year, marking the first half of the holiday season with billions of dollars in shopping left to be done. The numbers exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.
“November showed modest growth on the surface, but you have to remember that the late timing of Thanksgiving delayed the beginning of the busiest portion of the holiday season and pushed Cyber Monday’s billions of dollars of retail sales into December,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “These numbers are more about the calendar than consumer confidence. Consumer spending has been solid, and there’s still a lot of spending to be done. With strong employment and higher wages, we’re on track for a strong holiday season.”
Kleinhenz noted that the year-over-year comparison was challenging because November 2018 was up an unusually strong 4.7 percent over the year before. But December 2018 was down 0.2 percent from the year before, making it likely that next month could show a strong comparison.
In addition, many consumers began their shopping early this year, with some starting before November. NRF surveys showed that 39 percent planned to begin by Halloween, and that consumers on average had completed 52 percent of their shopping as of the Thanksgiving Day weekend.
“Whether they’re looking for something unique on Main Street, making a trip to the mall or clicking from the couch, this is when holiday shoppers shift into high gear.” – NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay
NRF’s forecast predicts that holiday retail sales during November and December will increase between 3.8 percent and 4.2 percent for a total of between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion.
November’s results build on October’s increase of 0.2 percent month-over-month and a strong 4.1 percent year-over-year. As of November, the three-month moving average was up 3.3 percent over the same period a year ago, compared with 4.2 percent in October.
NRF’s numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which said today that overall November sales – including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants – were up 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted from October and up 3.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
Specifics from key retail sectors during November include:
- Online and other non-store sales were up 7.2 percent year-over-year and up 0.8 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Sporting goods stores were up 4.3 percent year-over-year but down 0.5 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Grocery and beverage stores were up 4 percent year-over-year and up 0.3 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 1.4 percent year-over-year and up 0.1 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- General merchandise stores were unchanged year-over-year but up 0.1 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Building materials and garden supply stores were down 1.2 percent year-over-year but unchanged month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Electronics and appliance stores were down 1.7 percent year-over-year but up 0.7 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Health and personal care stores were also down 1.7 percent year-over-year and were down 1.1 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 2.9 percent year-over-year and down 0.6 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
And the good news, such as it is, continued into the proceeding Thanksgiving Day weekend. A record 189.6 million U.S. consumers shopped from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday this year, an increase of 14 percent over last year’s 165.8 million, the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics said.
“Americans continue to start their holiday shopping earlier in the year, and Thanksgiving is still a critical weekend for millions,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Whether they’re looking for something unique on Main Street, making a trip to the store or searching for the best deals from their mobile device, this is when shoppers shift into high gear. With the condensed holiday season, consumers are feeling the pressure to get their shopping done in time. Even those who typically wait until the last minute to purchase gifts turned out in record numbers all weekend long.”
Shoppers spent an average $361.90 on holiday items over the five-day period, up 16 percent from $313.29 during the same period last year. Of the total, $257.33 (71 percent) was specifically spent on gifts. The biggest spenders were 25- to 34-year-olds at $440.46, closely followed by those 35-44 at $439.72.
The survey found that 124 million people shopped in stores while 142.2 million shopped on retailers’ websites; demonstrating today’s seamless shopping world, 75.7 million did both. Consumers who shopped in both channels spent an average $366.79, spending at least 25 percent more than those who shopped in only one or the other.
Black Friday was the busiest day for in-store activity, with 84.2 million shoppers, followed by Small Business Saturday (59.9 million), Thanksgiving Day (37.8 million), Sunday (29.2 million) and Cyber Monday (21.8 million). Of those shopping on Saturday, 73 percent were likely to shop specifically for Small Business Saturday.
For the first time, Black Friday topped Cyber Monday as the busiest day for online at 93.2 million shoppers compared with 83.3 million. Saturday followed at 58.2 million, Thanksgiving Day at 49.7 million and Sunday at 43.1 million.
With online and in-store shopping increasingly intermingled, free shipping was the biggest reason for shoppers to make a purchase they were otherwise hesitant about, cited by 49 percent, up from 42 percent last year. And the ability to order online and pick up in-store was cited by 20 percent, up from 15 percent last year. Other top factors included limited-time sales or promotions (36 percent) and an easy-to-use website or app (21 percent).
Thirty-nine percent of consumers looked to emails from retailers for information on deals and promotions, edging out conventional advertising circulars, which were tied with online search at 38 percent. Mobile devices played a significant role, used by 75 percent to research products, compare prices or make purchases, up from 66 percent last year.
“The growth in online retail sales is a tide that lifts everybody,” Prosper Executive Vice President of Strategy Phil Rist said. “When consumers are buying from retailers online but picking up or making returns in-store, it is more and more difficult to distinguish between the sales retailers make in their stores and the ones they make on their websites.”
Top gift purchases over the weekend included apparel (bought by 58 percent of those surveyed), toys (33 percent), electronics (31 percent), books/music/movies/video games (28 percent) and gift cards (27 percent).
Shopping destinations included department stores (visited by 50 percent of those surveyed), clothing stores (36 percent), grocery stores (34 percent), electronics stores (32 percent) and discount stores (29 percent).
On average, consumers had completed 52 percent of their shopping, up from 44 percent during the same weekend last year, although Thanksgiving came six days earlier in 2018. The survey found only 39 percent of shoppers believe deals seen over the Thanksgiving weekend will get better throughout the rest of the season.
The popularity of Thanksgiving weekend shopping continues even as earlier NRF surveys found that 56 percent said they had already started as of the first week of November.
NRF defines the holiday season as November 1 through December 31 and has forecast that sales will total between $727.9 and $730.7 billion. Consumers expect to spend an average $1,047.83 – including purchases made earlier – for an increase of 4 percent over last year, according to NRF’s annual survey released in October.
The survey of 6,746 adult consumers was conducted last Wednesday through this Monday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.
The National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, passionately advocates for the people, brands, policies and ideas that help retail thrive. From its headquarters in Washington, D.C., NRF empowers the industry that powers the economy. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, contributing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP and supporting one in four U.S. jobs — 42 million working Americans. For over a century, NRF has been a voice for every retailer and every retail job, educating, inspiring and communicating the powerful impact retail has on local communities and global economies.