November Retail Sales Signaled a Slower Start to the Holiday Shopping Season

Retail sales edged up only slightly last month, signaling a slower start to the holiday shopping season.

According to the Department of Commerce, November’s figures increased an adjusted 0.2% month-over-month to $528 billion — weaker than economists’ anticipated 0.5% gain — and was 3.3% above the prior year period. (October’s retail sales were revised slightly higher, rising 0.4% to $527 billion.)

Declines occurred in several sectors where consumers often shop for holiday gifts. Clothing and clothing accessories stores, department stores and sporting goods stores all suffered declines. Online retailers were in better shape, growing 0.8% over the previous year.

The numbers indicated that consumers had cut back on discretionary spending during what is traditionally one of the busiest months for retailers. November marked a crucial period for retail sales, with Black Friday recognized as one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

However, with a late start to Thanksgiving, retailers had six fewer calendar days for the holiday shopping season compared with 2018. (In the third quarter, consumer spending — accounting for more than two-thirds of economic activity in the United States — improved at a 2.9% annualized rate.)

Today’s Commerce Department report also comes just a week after the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that American employers created 266,000 jobs, compared with forecasts of 187,000, while the unemployment rate fell to 3.5% to match September’s historically low level.

Trade tensions, worker shortages and fears of an impending recession continue to plague American companies and investors. In the latest geopolitical development, the U.S. and China appeared to be nearing a deal to settle their more-than-yearlong financial dispute, with the White House yesterday reportedly offering to cancel a new round of tariffs scheduled for this weekend.

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