Retail caps strong season with help from long Christmas weekend

Americans displayed their buying bona fides in the final run-up to Christmas, turning out in force to produce what may be the best holiday shopping season in years.

And why not? A nation that loves to spend has plenty to feel good about, with low unemployment and a robust stock market. The season’s tally should reach $671 billion, a “stellar” 5.5 percent increase from last year, according to Craig Johnson, head of research firm Customer Growth Partners. That would be the most since 2005, according to his calculations.

The timing of Christmas didn’t hurt, either, with a full weekend for procrastinators to redeem themselves. But signs of success were present all along, including a yen for home goods and electronics. Johnson boosted his holiday forecast earlier this month, and he notes that retailers didn’t have to resort to last-minute markdowns to draw shoppers. They were already coming in via the digital or brick-and-mortar doors.

Sales through Christmas Eve were about $598 billion, Johnson said in an interview with Bloomberg Radio. He said he expects another $73 billion to come this week.

Another shopping study, Mastercard’s SpendingPulse Report, said retail sales were up 4.9 percent this holiday season, the largest year-over-year gain since 2011. The report tracked sales activity across all payment types from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24. The report did not say how much money was spent.

Holiday sales estimates gave a lift to department stores shares on Tuesday.  J.C. Penney Co. rallied as much as 9.6 percent before closing up 5.4 percent, to $3.31 per share. Macy’s Inc. climbed 4.6 percent and Kohl’s rose 6 percent.

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