NRF: October retail sales grew as consumers got an early start on holiday shopping

Retail sales rose in October as many consumers began holiday shopping early to avoid any shortages amid pandemic-driven supply chain disruptions that are dominating businesses and shoppers this holiday season, the National Retail Federation said today.

“Retail sales data for October reflects the enduring strength of consumers’ finances and willingness to spend as the holiday season gets underway,” said Matthew Shay, NRF President and CEO. “The robust balance sheets of American households are being met by retailer preparation and hard work to provide products that consumers want at competitive prices. Despite significant challenges including supply chain issues, labor shortages, rising inflation and OSHA’s impending employer vaccine mandate, retailers are continuing to safely serve consumers online and in stores. Today’s numbers show that consumers are getting a jump on their holiday shopping. We continue to urge consumers to shop early and shop safely, and we fully expect this holiday season to be one for the record books.”

Jack Kleinhenz
Jack Kleinhenz

“October’s numbers highlight the retail industry’s ongoing hardiness now that we’re in the fourth quarter,” said Jack Kleinhenz, NRF Chief Economist. “Consumers remain in high gear moving into the last months of the year. While it’s difficult to parse out exact amounts, the figures reflect the combined effects of Halloween and early holiday shopping. Even though consumers may have begun shopping early to avoid inventory shortages, November and December are still when they do most of their holiday shopping, so much remains ahead of us. Concerns about high prices are weighing on consumer sentiment, but that has not held back spending. As it has for more than a year-and-a-half, COVID-19 remains a significant factor should there be an increase in coronavirus infections that could cause a pullback in spending.”

The U.S. Census Bureau today said overall retail sales in October were up 1.7 percent seasonally adjusted from September and up 16.3 percent year-over-year. That compares with increases of 0.8 percent month-over-month and 14.3 percent year-over-year in September. Despite occasional month-over-month declines, sales have grown year-over-year every month since June 2020, according to Census data.

NRF’s calculation of retail sales – which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail – showed October was up 1.7 percent seasonally adjusted from September and up 10.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year. That compared with increases of 0.4 percent month-over-month and 10.9 percent year-over-year in September. NRF’s numbers were up 11.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year on a three-month moving average.

October’s results come as NRF is forecasting another record-setting holiday season, with sales forecast to grow between 8.5 percent and 10.5 percent over 2020. While the NRF forecast defines the holiday season as November 1 through December 31, a record 49 percent of consumers surveyed this fall planned to begin their holiday shopping before November, with 36 percent doing so to avoid missing out on key holiday items.

For the first 10 months of the year, sales, as calculated by NRF, were up 14.1 percent over the same period in 2020. That is consistent with NRF’s forecast that retail sales for the full year should grow between 10.5 and 13.5 percent over 2020 to between $4.44 trillion and $4.56 trillion.

October sales were up in all but two categories on a monthly basis and were up across the board year-over-year, led by increases at clothing, electronics and sporting goods stores. Specifics from key sectors include:

  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 0.7 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 22.7 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Electronics and appliance stores were up 3.8 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 17.4 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sporting goods stores were up 1.5 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 16.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • General merchandise stores were up 0.8 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 15.7 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 0.4 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 9.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 0.9 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 7.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Online and other non-store sales were up 4 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 7.4 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were up 2.8 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 6.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Health and personal care stores were down 0.6 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 5.4 percent unadjusted year-over-year.