According to data released last Tuesday by the National Retail Federation (NRF), U.S. retail sales expanded by a record 14.1% year over year over year through the 2021 holiday shopping season.
In total retail receipts reached a whopping $886.7 billion, with online sales also expanding by a hearty 11.3% to 218.9 billion, according to the trade organization. It's worth noting that sales at auto lots, restaurants, and gas stations are omitted from the Federation's findings, which measured sales growth through Nov. 1- Dec. 31.
2021's holiday results smashed the NRF's previous estimate of 11.5%, a figure the body revised upward from its prior range of 8.5-10.5%, an estimate more in line with 2020's similarly record-breaking results.
The results came despite surging Omicron cases and tangled supply chains which threatened to derail the shopping season, said the Federation.
"We closed out the year with outstanding annual retail sales and a record holiday season, which is a clear testament to the power of the consumer and the ingenuity of retailers and their workers," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. "Consumers were backed by strong wages and record savings and began their shopping earlier this year than ever before. This is, in part, why we saw a decline in sales from November to December."
Indeed, the NRF noted that retail sales were down 0.3% in November on a seasonally adjusted basis and that sales were down 2.7% on that same basis in December but were up 13.4% year over year.
According to U.S. Census data, despite incipient declines in receipts on a monthly basis, sales have expanded every month year over year since June 2020.
Retailers got to a similar headstart as their customers, taking their cue from 2020's record holiday season and buying goods one to two months in advance, Liz Suzuki, a retail analyst at Bank of America
Big box retailers also took other strategic steps to avoid snarled supply lines. For instance, Walmart
The NRF relied on U.S. Census data, released concurrent to its own findings, to draw its conclusions. According to that data, which includes receipts from restaurants, car dealerships, and gas stations, sales grew by 16.9% year over year, despite being down by 1.9% percent on a seasonal basis.
Categories that led the holiday season's sales growth were clothing, sporting goods, general merchandise, and home furnishings.
"Holiday spending during 2021 reflected continued consumer demand that is driving the economy and should continue in 2022," said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. "Nonetheless, we should be prepared for challenges in the coming months due to the substantial uncertainty brought by the pandemic."