U.S. Holiday Retail Sales Hit a Six-Year High — But Will Consumer Confidence Last?

Retailers are reaping the rewards of a strong economy this season as U.S. shoppers propelled holiday sales growth to a six-year high.

Between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24, total U.S. retail sales excluding automobiles rose 5.1 percent from the year before, according to new data from Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks national retail sales across all payment types. In total, the payments company found that shoppers spent more than $850 billion, topping forecasts from the National Retail Federation, which estimated growth of between 4.3 and 4.8 percent. Growth in apparel was particularly strong at 7.9 percent, the best rate the sector has seen since 2010.

Online spending, predictably, picked up considerable steam this year, increasing 19 percent over the same period in 2017, according to Mastercard.

“From shopping aisles to online carts, consumer confidence translated into holiday cheer for retail,” said Steve Sadove, senior adviser for Mastercard and former CEO and chairman of Saks Fifth Avenue. “By combining the right inventory with the right mix of online versus in-store, many retailers were able to give consumers what they wanted via the right shopping channels.”

On Wednesday, Amazon announced that it again broke its own holiday sales record, shipping more than a billion items in the U.S. alone. But the e-commerce behemoth wasn’t the only retailer benefiting from consumers shopping from their laptops and smartphones: Per Mastercard, online sales for department stores were up 10.2 percent, a high note in an otherwise gloomy season for many of them (overall, the category saw a sales decline of 1.3 percent, some of which can be attributed to store closings).

These figures paint a rosy picture amid a dismal month for Wall Street, which on Monday saw the worst Christmas Eve for stocks in history as the Dow plunged to 2018 lows. And while the majority of stock ownership in the U.S. is controlled by the richest 10 percent of the population, according to a 2017 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, more than half of Americans have a stake in market either directly or indirectly through mutual funds or retirement accounts. The losses are tied to mounting concerns about President Donald Trump’s clashes with the Federal Reserve, the ongoing trade war with China and the possibility of a recession, so even retailers that saw a strong holiday season will no doubt be paying close attention to consumer sentiment going into the new year.

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