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Dec 29, 2020
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US Holiday retail sales up 3%, but apparel and luxury struggle, says Mastercard

Dec 29, 2020

US retail sales rose 3% between October 11 and December 24, according to a new report from Mastercard SpendingPulse. And online sales soared by as much 49% year-on-year.

Photo: Jill Wellington/Pixabay

The payment card giant’s figures (which exclude automotive and gasoline) measure overall retail spending trends across all payment types, including cards, cash and check.

Across the traditional Holiday season period (November and December), it also said total sales were up 2.4% and online rose 47.2%.

“American consumers turned the holiday season on its head, redefining ‘home for the holidays’ in a uniquely 2020 way,” said Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard and former CEO and Chairman of Saks Inc. “They shopped from home for the home, leading to record e-commerce growth. And, consumers shopped earlier than ever before. Our expanded 75-day holiday shopping season [was] a testament to the Holiday season and strength of retailers and consumers alike.”

Mastercard SpendingPulse underscored the shift to online spending, saying e-commerce accounted for 19.7% of overall retail sales in the period starting October 11, which was up from around 13.4% in 2019. 

But it was bad news for the apparel sector as spending here fell 19.1% and online sales rose only 15.7%. Meanwhile jewelry sales fell 4.3% but were up 44.6% online. Luxury, excluding jewelry, was down a chunky 21.1%. The report didn’t give a figure for online luxury sales.

By contrast, home furniture and furnishings experienced the strongest growth of any sector compared to 2019, up 16.2%. And it grew 31% online.

Meanwhile, department stores saw an overall sales decline of 10.2% with online sales growth of a weak 3.3%. The report also said that ‘buy online, pick up in-store’, as well as technologies like contactless, were key for retailers this season.

The report added that this season, US consumers “shopped far earlier than in years past, as retailers offered special promotions early and often”. And though Black Friday was down 16.1%, Thanksgiving weekend through Cyber Monday “remained a key time for shoppers, with Black Friday being the top spending day of the 2020 Holiday season”.

December 12 was also a big day as “shoppers raced to grab ‘guaranteed by Christmas’ shipping offers”. 

But the company said there were fewer last-minute shoppers this year. Last year, the Monday before Christmas was in the top three shopping days list. This time, it wasn’t even in the top 10. But that’s perhaps understandable given that last year, Christmas Day was on a Wednesday so the Monday was only two days before that. 2020 was a leap year so Christmas was on a Friday, giving consumers more days to shop after Monday. 

And there are the effects of the pandemic to take into account that would have suppressed physical shopping demand and boosted online.

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