Why the 2017 Holiday Shopping Season Was a Success for Struggling Retail

Walmart Black Friday Store Shoot
The scene at a Walmart in Bentonville, Ark., on Black Friday.
AP Images

It’s beginning to look a lot like — a retail rebound?

While it will take sustained success across retail to make the above statement true, early reads for holiday shopping data are giving renewed hope to beleaguered retailers.

According to data released by retail insights firm Shoppertrak today, in-store retail traffic on the all-important Super Saturday — the final Saturday before the Christmas holiday — increased 20 percent this year when compared with last year’s. Meanwhile, traffic on Saturday, Dec. 16, and Sunday, Dec. 17, saw a 2.8 percent increase when compared with last year’s Super Saturday weekend.

Adding to the positive news, Mastercard’s SpendingPulse report this week revealed retail sales from Nov. 1 to Christmas Eve increased 4.9 percent versus last year — the highest growth rate since 2011. At the same time, online sales increased more than 18 percent.

According to Brian Fields, senior director of advisory services at Shoppertrak, the data “reinforces notions of retail success … [and] overall, it’s safe to say that retailers had a very merry Christmas.”

Similarly, Sarah Quinlan, SVP of Market Insights at Mastercard, said this year was “a big win” for retail.

“The strong U.S. economy was a contributing factor, but we also have to recognize that retailers who tried new strategies to engage holiday shoppers were the beneficiaries of this sales increase,” Quinlan said.

Ahead of the holidays, retailers — including Walmart, Target and department stores such as Macy’s and Nordstrom — had placed increased emphasis on creating cohesion between their online and in-store businesses by rolling out optimized in-store pickup options and better in-store experiences.

The wave of good news come days after the National Retail Federation said it expected retailers to top its bullish forecast for the holiday season.

“Consumer confidence has been at an all-time high over the last few months, in addition to the unemployment rate being low and wages have slightly gone up year-over-year, which is allowing consumers to splurge and spend more than they normally would,” Ana Smith, senior director of media relations at the NRF, said Wednesday.

The NRF forecasted between 3.6 percent and 4 percent sales growth for November and December, compared with the same months in 2016. But after seeing business boom in November, the trade association said it believed the expectations would be met or exceeded. And the upbeat results could keep rolling in — another of the busiest shopping days of the season still remains: Saturday, Dec. 30.

(The SpendingPulse report is based on aggregate sales activity in the Mastercard payments network along with survey-based estimates for other forms of payment, such as cash and checks. Shoppertrak analyzes shopper visit data at the national, regional and ZIP code levels for total retail, apparel and accessories, and wireless and electronics categories.)