Economy Watch: Retailers Might Have Had a Strong Holiday Season After All

Early retail sales numbers for the 2016 holiday season estimate that U.S. consumers spent significantly more just ahead of Christmas than they did at the same time last year.
Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons user slowburn
Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons user slowburn

Early numbers on retail sales during the 2016 holiday season are coming in, and at least one organization reports that U.S. consumers decided to loosen their purse-strings just ahead of Christmas. Retail research firm Customer Growth Partners is now estimating that holiday sales were up 4.9 percent over last year, to $637 billion. If so, that would be the largest increase since 2005.

Some retailers did better than others, naturally, even without resorting to deep discounts before Christmas. Consumer electronics, home-improvement goods, beauty products and toys all enjoyed strong sales. In some cases, that goes against long-term trends, such as for electronics, a category in which sales have been slipping for some years now.

Consumer optimism might be one of the drivers of spending; It’s been improving lately, according to both the Conference Board and the University of Michigan. Low unemployment and fuel prices, as well as recent real income gains, were also probably factors that spurred holiday sales, noted Customer Growth.

The company also estimates that online sales grew up to 15 percent during this holiday season, compared with last year. That increase reflects the continual steady rise in online spending that began nearly 20 years ago and didn’t even slow down much during the recession.