BUSINESS

Retail Sector Enjoys Best Holiday Season In 6 Years As Shoppers Spend Up A Storm

Consumers in the U.S. spent more than $850 billion between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 this year, according to early retail data.

Despite stock market fluctuations, a partial government shutdown and growing concerns over potentially slowing global growth, consumers in the U.S. reportedly opened their wallets with abandon this holiday season.

MasterCard SpendingPulse, which tracks spending both in stores and online, announced on Wednesday that U.S. consumers had spent more than $850 billion between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 this year ― an increase of about 5 percent compared to 2017.

MasterCard said it was the best holiday season for retail in at least six years.

“From shopping aisles to online carts, consumer confidence translated into holiday cheer for retail,” Steve Sadove, a MasterCard senior advisor, said in a statement. “By combining the right inventory with the right mix of online versus in-store, many retailers were able to give consumers what they wanted via the right shopping channels.”

The holiday sales spurt was unevenly distributed across different sectors in the industry. Apparel and home improvement saw significant growth (about 8 percent and 9 percent respectively), MasterCard said. And online shopping enjoyed a huge boost, growing 19 percent compared to 2017.

E-commerce giant Amazon was a clear winner in the online space. The company took 81 percent of internet sales between Dec. 1 and Dec. 19 against other big-box retailers, CNBC reported citing Edison Trends data. 

Amazon announced on Wednesday that it had a “record-breaking” holiday season. The company didn’t reveal revenue numbers or sales figures but said it had shipped more than 1 billion items for free in the United States with its Prime service over the holiday season and had sold millions of Amazon devices like the Echo and Fire TV Stick 4K.

According to MasterCard, department stores experienced an overall decline of about 1.3 percent in holiday sales from 2017. Electronics and appliances also saw a sales dip of about 0.7 percent. 

While it was a very strong holiday season overall for retailers, some analysts warned that the retail surge may stall in 2019 as concerns continue to brew on Wall Street over a potentially slowing economy. Rising costs due to tariffs and other factors could also weigh down retailers, Neil Saunders of research firm GlobalData Retail told the Los Angeles Times this week. 

“The main question now is, can retailers keep this performance going as we move into 2019?” Saunders said. “Investors are very nervous about the prospects, which is why retail stocks have taken a bit of a beating.”

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