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2023 Holiday Sales Grew 3.8% to Record $964.4B

US Census Bureau data shows that core retail sales during the 2023 holiday season grew 3.8% over 2022 to a record $964.4 billion, easily meeting the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) forecast despite continued inflation and high interest rates. Sales for the full year grew 3.6% over 2022 to a record $5.13 trillion.

“Consumer spending was remarkably resilient throughout 2023 and finished the year with a solid pace for the holiday season,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Although inflation has been the biggest concern for households, the price of goods eased notably and was helped by a healthy labor market, underscoring a successful holiday season for retailers.”

The 2023 holiday sales results top the previous record of $929.5 billion spent during the 2022 holiday season. NRF had forecast that 2023 holiday sales would increase between 3% and 4% over 2022 to between $957.3 billion and $966.6 billion. Despite a slower growth rate compared with the past three years, when trillions of dollars of stimulus led to unprecedented rates of retail spending during the pandemic, 2023’s holiday spending was consistent with the average annual holiday increase of 3.6% from 2010 to 2019.

NRF’s calculation of retail sales is based on Census Bureau data but excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail. NRF defines the holiday season as November 1 through December 31.

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The holiday total, which is not adjusted for inflation, includes online and other non-store sales, which were up 8.2% at $276.8 billion. NRF had forecast that the category would grow between 7% and 9% to between $273.7 billion and $278.8 billion. Online holiday sales were $255.8 billion in 2022.

The $5.13 trillion full-year total is in line with NRF’s most recent expectation that 2023 annual retail sales would increase about or just below 4% over 2022, reflecting a slowdown in the rate of growth throughout the year. Full-year sales during 2022 totaled $4.95 trillion, which was the previous full-year spending record.

For December alone, retail sales as defined by NRF were up 0.7% seasonally adjusted from November and up 3.3% unadjusted year over year. By comparison, sales were up 0.4% month over month in November and up 4.2% year over year.

The Census Bureau today said overall December retail sales—including autos, gas and restaurants—were up 0.6% from November and up 5.6% year over year. In November, the Census numbers were up 0.3% month over month and up 4% year over year.

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November-December holiday sales saw year-over-year gains in all but two of nine retail categories, led by electronics and appliance stores, health and personal care stores and online sales. Specifics from key sectors for the two months combined, all on an unadjusted year-over-year basis, include:

  • Electronics and appliance stores were up 9.3%.
  • Health and personal care stores were up 9%.
  • Online and other non-store sales were up 8.2%.
  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 3%.
  • General merchandise stores were up 2%.
  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 1.1%.
  • Sporting goods stores were up 0.3%.
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were down 3.9%.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 6.2%.

While holiday hiring for some retailers was lower than in years past, it was estimated that holiday jobs totaled 439,500 for November and December. NRF expected retailers to hire between 345,000 and 450,000 seasonal workers, in line with 391,000 seasonal hires in 2022.

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