U.S. retailers on Friday reported record holiday sales numbers despite grappling with surging COVID-19 cases, rising prices, supply chain issues and worker shortages.
Retail sales totaled roughly $887 billion in November and December, a record figure that represents a 14.1 percent increase over 2020, according to an analysis from the National Retail Federation (NRF).
“We closed out the year with outstanding annual retail sales and a record holiday season, which is a clear testament to the power of the consumer and the ingenuity of retailers and their workers,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. “The numbers are clear: 2021 was an undeniably outstanding year for retail sales.”
NRF credited the strong sales to consumers’ increased wages and high personal savings. Clothing stores saw the largest increase in sales, up 33.1 percent, while sales at sporting goods stores and general merchandise stores increased by 20.9 percent and 15.2 percent, respectively.
The figures, which are based on U.S. Census Bureau data, exclude car dealers, gas stations and restaurants, which were among the businesses hardest hit by the omicron surge in December.
While overall holiday sales exceeded expectations, the Commerce Department said Friday that retail sales fell by 1.9 percent from November to December after analysts predicted that sales would remain flat.
Economists said that last month’s unprecedented spread of COVID-19 contributed to the dip in sales, as well as consumers making holiday purchases far earlier than usual to avoid supply chain issues. They also point to inflation, with consumer prices rising 7 percent this year.
“Worries about inflation and COVID-19 put pressure on consumer attitudes but did not dampen spending, and sales were remarkably strong,” NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement. “Even though many consumers began shopping in October, this was the strongest November and December we’ve ever seen.”