October retail sales grew as consumers started holiday shopping early

WASHINGTON – Retail sales grew for the sixth month in a row in October, with sales significantly better than the same time a year ago as the economy continued to recover and consumers began their holiday shopping early, the National Retail Federation said today.

“We are encouraged by another positive retail sales number for October — the sixth consecutive positive monthly gain — as early holiday shopping provided a strong boost to the data,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Overall, retail sales were up 10.6 percent in October 2020 versus October 2019, and for the first 10 months of this year, retail sales were up 6.4 percent versus the first 10 months of 2019.”

“Consumers have proven their resilience and willingness to spend as we head into the heart of the holiday season and retailers continue to demonstrate their commitment and ability to ensure safe shopping environments for their customers and their associates, with deep discounts, robust inventory and great experiences whether in-store or online,” Shay said.

“October retail sales remained on track despite the pandemic continuing to affect households and businesses,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “The steady expansion of retail sales is good news against the background of these unusual economic circumstances and climbing virus cases in recent weeks. Early holiday shopping appears to have supported October’s increase in sales. The rise in COVID-19 cases continues to be a factor that weighs on consumer perceptions, sentiment and spending and there could be retrenchment if we cannot thwart this latest wave. Nonetheless, retailers are well prepared to safely fulfill holiday shopping lists, and the October results suggest so far, so good.”

The U.S. Census Bureau said today that overall retail sales in October were up 0.3 percent seasonally adjusted from September and up 5.7 percent year-over-year. That built on increases of 1.6 percent month-over-month and 5.9 percent year-over-year in September.

NRF’s calculation of retail sales – which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail – showed October was up 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted from September and up 10.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year. That compared with increases of 0.9 percent month-over-month and 12.9 percent year-over-year in September. NRF’s numbers were up 10 percent unadjusted year-over-year on a three-month moving average.

October’s sales results come as NRF’s latest research shows 42 percent of consumers started their holiday shopping sooner than usual this year. NRF has urged consumers to shop safe and shop early, and 59 percent had begun by early November, up from 49 percent at that point a decade ago. Consumers surveyed for NRF by Prosper Insights & Analytics plan to spend an average $997.79, down $50 from 2019 as they focus on gifts rather than purchases for themselves.

October gains were led by online sales, which were up both month-over-month and year-over-year thanks largely to the shift of Amazon Prime Day and related online promotions to October from July. Seven out of nine retail categories saw year-over-year increases.

Specifics from key retail sectors during October include:

  • Online and other non-store sales were up 3.1 month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 26.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Electronics and appliance stores were up 1.2 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted but down 3.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were up 0.9 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and up 17 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Health and personal care stores were down 0.1 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 3.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Grocery and beverage stores were down 0.2 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 11.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 0.4 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 5.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • General merchandise stores were down 1.1 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 4.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sporting goods stores were down 4.2 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted but up 14.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 4.2 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted and down 11.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

About NRF
The National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, passionately advocates for the people, brands, policies and ideas that help retail thrive. From its headquarters in Washington, D.C., NRF empowers the industry that powers the economy. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, contributing $3.9 trillion to annual GDP and supporting one in four U.S. jobs — 52 million working Americans. For over a century, NRF has been a voice for every retailer and every retail job, educating, inspiring and communicating the powerful impact retail has on local communities and global economies.

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