NRF: Holiday sales rose 2.2%

The National Retail Federation (NRF) reported yesterday that holiday retail sales in the GAFS category (general merchandise stores, clothing and clothing accessories stores, furniture and home furnishings stores, electronics and appliance stores, and sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores) rose 2.2%–the smallest sales increase since NRF began tracking GAFS sales in 1992.

“It comes as no surprise that retailers had a challenging holiday season,” said NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin. “Despite their efforts to maintain sales through heavy promotions and discounts, external factors surrounding this holiday season were too much for retailers to overcome. Consumers were cautious and the sales increase was low.”

“Heavy promotions for 2002 meant that consumers were able to buy more goods for less money, thereby distorting the total value of sales in nominal terms,” NRF Chief Economist Rosalind Wells said.

The National Retail Federation initially projected that holiday sales would increase 4%, then downgraded that forecast to 3.5% on December 26. Holiday sales are defined as total retail sales in November and December.

December retail sales in the GAFS category (general merchandise stores, clothing and clothing accessories stores, furniture and home furnishings stores, electronics and appliance stores, and sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores) rose 0.3% seasonally adjusted from November 2002 and 1.8% unadjusted year-to-year. Figures released by the Commerce Department also show that total retail sales (including autos and restaurants) were up 1.2% seasonally adjusted month-to-month and increased 4.4% from the prior year, due to strong automobile sales in December.

Nonstore retailers, such as online and catalog retailers, showed steady growth in December, rising 18.1% unadjusted for the year and 3% seasonally adjusted month-to-month. Health and personal care stores also saw growth last month, posting a 6.6% unadjusted gain year-over-year and 0.1 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month. Also performing well were apparel stores at 3.0 percent unadjusted year-over-year and 0.8% seasonally adjusted month-to-month and furniture/home furnishings stores at 3.3% unadjusted year-over-year with flat seasonally adjusted growth.