Nov 29, 2022 - Economy

Consumers "shattered" early holiday shopping expectations, retail survey says

Illustration of a shopping back with the handle becoming a smiley face.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A record number of Americans shopped online and in stores from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, according to the results of a National Retail Federation survey out today.

Details: The total grew by nearly 17 million, or 10%, from last year to 196.7 million this year over the five day period — the highest figure since tracking began in 2017.

What's happening: Consumers are releasing a secondary store of pent-up demand — both for physical goods as holiday travel, parties and gift-giving take over, and as in-person experiences return with COVID restrictions lifting.

By the numbers: More than 122.7 million visited stores in person over the weekend, up 17% from last year, according a survey of 3,326 adults conducted from Nov. 23 to Nov. 27.

  • The number of people who shopped online grew 2% from last year to 130.2 million.

What they're saying: Turnout over the past week "shattered our initial expectations by more than 30 million," NRF CEO Matt Shay told reporters this morning.

  • "We know that this is just a single five-day period throughout the 60 days ... between November 1 and December 31. But we believe it continues to be a good indicator ... of the overall health of the consumer and the economy — and I think a predictor of continued behavior," he added.

Hope's thought bubble: Prior to Thanksgiving, we wrote a few stories suggesting there would be a slowdown in spending this year and that the traditional holiday season may be dead.

  • In hindsight, with actual data from Adobe and even Shopify saying spending has broken records, it seems we were wrong.
  • The pandemic has made it notoriously difficult for analysts (and journalists) to forecast.
  • As Shay put it: "It continues to be an unpredictable year. And very different from the last two holiday seasons."

The big picture: Americans still have 75% of pandemic excess savings, but most say they're growing gloomier about the economy.

  • Initial Consumer Confidence readings declined month over month from October for nearly all household income groups under $75,000, according to data shared with Axios from The Conference Board today. And they rose for households with $75,000 and over.
  • Inflation has fallen hardest on lower income households than higher income households — who were the biggest spenders this weekend.
  • Families with an income of $100,000 or more spent $511 on average for a holiday item, according to the NRF. That's $185 more than the average shopper, and about $60 more than they spent last year.

What to watch: If rail workers strike next week, that would impact consumer psyche and confidence, according to Shay.

  • The fiscal cliff and government shutdowns were examples of external factors that "had pretty severe and dramatic impact on consumer spending."

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