A customer searches for shoes at a Macy’s store during the Black Friday sale on November 25, 2022 in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Kena Betancur | Getty Images
A record number of holiday shoppers – 196.7 million – have returned to stores in droves and searched for deals from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation, which tracks the number of in-person and online shopping.
The trade group did not estimate spending over the weekend, but said Tuesday that sales for the entire holiday shopping season were on track to meet its forecast. It predicts holiday sales will rise 6% to 8% from a year ago to between $942.6 billion and $960.4 billion. Part of this increase will come from almost four decades of high inflation.
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The National Retail Federation defines the holiday season as November 1 through December 31. The sales forecast excludes spending at car dealerships, gas stations and restaurants.
Shoppers spent an average of about $325 on holiday-related purchases over the weekend. That’s higher than last year’s average of $301.
NRF CEO Matt Shay said the main takeaways from the weekend are that Americans are eager to shop in person again and are hungry for bargains. More than 122.7 million people visited physical stores over the weekend, a 17% jump from 2021.
As inflation hits Americans’ wallets, he said, promotions have become a big motivator.
“Consumers are shopping, but they’re doing it when they see offers and when they get promotions that match what they’re looking for, and so you can engage them, but you have to offer value and price,” he said in a call with reporters.
Retailers have nonetheless been cautious about their holiday outlook, especially as families feel the pinch of inflation. walmart spoke of customers skipping discretionary items and turning to cheaper proteins like hot dogs and peanut butter. Target cut its forecast for the holiday quarter. And best buy said customers were more interested in shopping during sales events.
So far, however, industry watchers have reported a strong start to the buying season. Figures from Adobe Analytics showed online spending hit record highs on key days of the holiday shopping weekend. Black Friday sales reached $9.12 billion and Cyber Monday sales reached $11.3 billion, according to the company, which tracks sales on retailer websites.
On average, consumers said in the NRF survey that they had about half of their holiday shopping done. That means retailers can expect more purchases in the coming weeks, Shay said.
NRF said on Tuesday that its number of shoppers over the holiday weekend surpassed last year’s turnout of 179 million during the same period last year. The group, which started tracking the figure in 2017, had forecast a turnout of 166.3 million for that year.
Higher attendance and record spending this holiday season could be the result of a variety of factors. It could indicate that consumers are ready to buy – but only if the items are heavily discounted. It could also signal a return to the pre-pandemic holiday shopping schedule, with people concentrating their gift shopping around Black Friday and in the final sprint before Christmas Day.
Or it could portend a tougher 2023. If Americans fund their shopping sprees by cutting savings rates and racking up big balances on credit cards or through “Buy Now, Pay Later,” that could leave them with less to spend in the months ahead.
The National Retail Federation, a major trade group, took an optimistic stance on consumer spending, saying a strong job market has encouraged Americans to keep spending.
Shay also brushed off worries about a recession on Tuesday, but acknowledged another risk for retailers: the threat of a railroad strike. While retailers may have most of their holiday merchandise, he said a work stoppage could be a blow to consumer confidence.
“We think the holiday season would be the worst possible time,” he said.
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