2020 Holiday Sales Jumped 8.3%

Despite COVID-19, sales exceeded expectations with the help of online shopping.

January 19, 2021

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Holiday 2020 saw an impressive increase in retail sales despite the ongoing pandemic, according to Pymnts.com, with sales 8.3% higher in 2020 than in 2019. That was double the 3.5% average yearly increase the sector had seen over the past five holiday seasons.

“Despite unprecedented challenges, consumers and retailers demonstrated incredible resilience this holiday season,” said Matthew Shay, president, NRF. “Faced with rising transmission of the virus, state restrictions on retailers and heightened political and economic uncertainty, consumers chose to spend on gifts that lifted the spirits of their families and friends and provided a sense of normalcy given the challenging year.”

NRF said 2020 retail sales from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31 were $789.4 billion, surpassing its sales forecast of between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion, or an increase of 3.6% to 5.2%. A surge in online shopping helped boost sales. According to Adobe Digital Insights, online shopping hit $188.2 billion in 2020, a 32% increase from 2019.

For the first time, consumers spent over $1 billion each day during the holiday season, a sign that  digital shopping is here to stay, although it brings with it the problem of e-commerce returns. Meanwhile, grocery and beverage retailers saw sales increase by 9.6% this year, but electronics and appliance sellers saw sales drop 14.4%.

The NRF numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which reported on Jan. 15 that overall December sales, including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants, were down 0.7% seasonally adjusted from November, but up 2.9% unadjusted year over year. The sector’s performance could be a sign that the economy is recovering, said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist, NRF.

“Some families are still struggling, as are some retail sectors. But the promise of a new round of stimulus checks after a deal was struck before Christmas helped increase consumer confidence,” Kleinhenz said. “Consumers were also encouraged by the news of COVID-19 vaccines becoming available, which helped offset concerns about increased infection rates and state restrictions on activity.”