First the good news for brick-and-mortar retailers: In-store sales during the recent holiday season did actually rise.
The bad news? They did so at a much slower clip than online sales and underperformed overall seasonal growth rates, illustrating how much harder it remains to attract shoppers to stores despite Herculean efforts to make them more appealing.
On the whole, retail spending rose 3.6% in November and December, roughly on a par with the National Retail Federation’s bullish forecast for the holiday season and reflective of many factors in favor of retailers this year, including rising wages, low gas prices and record stock market highs, according to data provider First Data.
First Data, which generates its information from almost 1,000,000 cash registers, said on Monday that the increase was led by online shopping, which rose 12%, a figure similar to that reported last week by Adobe Digital Insights. By some estimates, Amazon.com (AMZN) alone was behind 30% of all U.S. online sales. As for physical stores, sales were up a modest 1.6%.
The numbers help explain how some retailers, notably Kohl’s (KSS) and Macy’s (M), reported record online sales on key events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday even as they each reported comparable sales overall fell 2.1% during the crucial period. And during the Thanksgiving-Cyber Monday weekend, some 109 million Americans shopped online, compared to about 99 million who went to stores.
Digging into the data, it’s not hard to see why such department stores – J.C. Penney (JCP), Sears (SHLD) also reported declines (0.8% and 13% respectively) had such awful holiday seasons in contrast to a rosy picture overall for retail. Shoppers were simply spending money on categories that don’t play to apparel-focus department stores’ forte. Including travel and leisure (but excluding gas), spending was up 4.7%.
What’s more, First Data said the best performing retail categories were building materials, electronic and appliance shops and health and personal care stores. That suggests that the likes of Best Buy (BBY), The Home Depot (HD) and Ulta Beauty (ULTA) likely did much better over the Christmas period than the likes of Macy’s.
Indeed, according to First Data, sales fell 4.8% at department stores, explaining why Sears and Macy’s announced store closings.