Consumers braced inflation and came out to shop in record numbers this past holiday weekend, according to data from the National Retail Federation (NRF).
A record 196.7 million consumers shopped in stores and online during the five days between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday, marking 17 million more shoppers than last year and the highest ever number recorded by NRF.
The strong turnout came despite significant headwinds for the retail industry, including inflation, high interest rates and a tight labor market. On top of that, a potential U.S. rail worker strike, which could occur as early as next week, is also threatening supply chain recovery across the country and could leave retailers without a crucial avenue for shipping and transporting their goods.
“It continues to be an unpredictable year,” said NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay in a call with media on Tuesday morning.
The impressive turnout over the holiday weekend, which typically serves as bellwether for consumer sentiment and the strength of economy, surpassed the trade group’s initial expectations. It also reflects pent-up shopping demand for consumers looking for value amid price increases and suggests persisting shopping momentum through the next four weeks. According to NRF, consumers say they still have at least half of their shopping remaining.
By channel, more than 122.7 million people visited brick-and-mortar stores over the weekend, up 17% from 2021. Online shopping grew at a slower pace — up 2% — with 130.2 million people shopping in that channel. Clothing and accessories, toys, gift cards and media were some of the best performing categories.
Previously, NRF predicted that total sales between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 would grow between 6% and 8% compared to 2021. The growth would represent a total of between $942.6 billion and $960.4 billion in sales, on top of last year’s record-breaking 13.5% growth to $889.3 billion.
According to consumers, retailers delivered over the weekend when it came to value. 56% of shoppers reported seeing value opportunities, a greater percentage than last year, NRF found. And 86% said they expect to continue seeing deals. Retailers looking to offload excess inventory in discretionary categories like apparel are especially well-positioned to offer deals and promotions.
Despite inflation, retail sales have grown year-over-year for 30 consecutive months. In October, total U.S. retail sales were $694.5 billion, up 1.3% from September and 8.3% from the same month in 2021.
While some of this sales gain has been a result of higher prices due to inflation, the strong turnout of shoppers over Thanksgiving weekend suggests that consumer demand is also driving growth.