Despite losing momentum late, holiday sales surprise to the upside

Despite retail sales declining sequentially each of the last three months of the year, the 2020 holiday shopping season was one for the record books. Retail sales during 2020’s November-December holiday season grew an unexpectedly high 8.3% over the same period in 2019. The 8.3% increase was more than double the 3.5% average holiday increase over the previous five years, including 2019’s 4% gain.

The data includes online and other non-stores sales, which were up 23.9% to $209 billion. From November to December, retail sales fell a seasonally-adjusted 1.6%, but were up 8.6% unadjusted year-over-year. That built on a year-over-year gain of 8% in November despite November’s sequential decline of 0.9% from October. As of December, the three-month moving average was up 8.9% over the same period in 2019.

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