US holiday sales up 8.5% despite Omicron surge

E-commerce drives spending as customers shopped early to ensure gifts arrived by Christmas

MasterCard SpendingPulse, which tracks all kinds of payments including cash and debit cards, reported that holiday sales had risen 8.5 per cent from a year earlier. AFP
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US consumers splurged this holiday season, a report showed, despite disruptions to the nation's supply chain and the recent surge of the Omicron variant.

MasterCard SpendingPulse, which tracks all kinds of payments including cash and debit cards, reported that holiday sales had risen 8.5 per cent from a year earlier.

“Shoppers were eager to secure their gifts ahead of the retail rush, with conversations surrounding supply chain and labour supply issues sending consumers online and to stores in droves,” MasterCard senior executive Steve Sadove said on Sunday.

The spending increase, which came in slightly below the anticipated an 8.8 per cent rise, included “apparel and department stores experiencing strong growth as shoppers sought to put their best dressed foot forward”, he said.

The results, which covered November 1 until December 24, were fuelled by purchases of clothing and jewellery. Apparel purchases were up 47.3 per cent versus 2020 and jewellery sales rose by 20 per cent, the report showed.

E-commerce, which powered the rise in holiday sales, was up 11 per cent, underscoring how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed consumers' spending habits. Sales at physical stores were up 8.1 per cent compared with 2020, the model showed.

“It's been a resurgent season for retailers as consumers stocked their carts with gifts and gadgets,” MasterCard said.

The period included several weeks before the Omicron variant spread widely in the US.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, again topped US spending this holiday season. From November 26-28, US retail sales were up 14.1 per cent year-over-year.

The report also showed many customers did their shopping early, likely to ensure their gifts arrived by Christmas. Retailers also offered promotions earlier this shopping season to guarantee goods were shipped by the holiday.

President Joe Biden earlier this year moved to break the supply chain bottleneck in the US, as containers waited in long queues at ports.

Major ports began to operate on a 24-hour service and the Biden administration imposed fees on shippers who had cargo sitting on docks for more than eight days. The White House also sought to bring goods from ports to retailers more quickly.

MasterCard SpendingPulse reports on national retail sales. Its findings are based on sales activity through the MasterCard payment network and estimates for other forms of payment.

Agencies contribute to this report

Updated: December 27, 2021, 3:18 PM
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