It Was Strongest Retail Season in Years. Now, $90B in Returns

Retail sales up 4.9% over last year, biggest jump since 2011
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 26, 2017 1:43 PM CST
Electronics Propel Biggest Holiday Season in Years
In this Dec. 7 photo, shoppers pass through an archway into the Union Square Holiday Market in New York.   (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The early returns are in for US retailers from the holiday shopping season, and the word "robust" comes to mind. In fact, this season has seen the strongest growth since 2011, reports USA Today. Specifically, retail sales from Nov. 1 through Christmas Eve rose 4.9% over last year, according to data from Mastercard SpendingPulse. Some details about the numbers:

  • E-sales: Not surprisingly, online sales propelled the strong year, registering a jump of 18.1% percent over last year, reports the Wall Street Journal. Generally, online sales have made up 10% of US spending, but that's expected to double in 2017. Of note: Amazon reports that 4 million people signed up for Amazon Prime memberships in one week alone during the holiday season.

  • The big days: Black Friday was the single biggest day for spending, but Dec. 23 was second, showing that the season started strong and remained so. A calendar quirk helped this year: With Christmas falling on a Monday, retailers could count on a full weekend of shopping before the big day.
  • Big categories: Sales of electronics and home appliances rose 7.5%, thanks to gizmos such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, per Business Insider. This was the biggest jump in electronics sales in 10 years. Meanwhile, sales of jewelry rose 5.9% and home furnishings 5.1%. In the not-so-hot category, apparel sales rose a relatively modest 2.7%.
  • FedEx, UPS: The two companies were obviously hopping to deliver packages, but no let-up is in sight. By one estimate, consumers will return about $90 billion of goods this season, and that will only improve the bottom line for the delivery firms, reports CNBC.

  • Record closures: The healthy sales comes after a steady drumbeat of negative headlines in 2017. Fifty retailers filed for bankruptcy, including big names such as Payless ShoeSource and Toys R Us, notes the AP. In addition, about 7,000 store closures were announced industry-wide, and that's a record, reports CNN Money. All that while shares of Amazon rose 55% this year, as if the trend toward online shopping weren't clear enough. Expect another big year of closures in 2018, notes CNBC.
  • Cautionary note: Consumer confidence may be high and unemployment low, but credit card delinquencies increased 16% in the third quarter. That suggests consumers might be "spending above their means and could slow their purchasing next year," per the Journal.
  • Retail stocks up: The good news was being reflected Tuesday in rising share prices of retailers including JC Penney, Macy's, and Kohl's, per MarketWatch.
(Read more retailers stories.)

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