Good news this month as reported in the Wall Street Journal that USA retail sales in September increased 0.7% from the previous month and are running 13.9% ahead of same time last year. Bad news that one of the contributing factors to this growth is inflation which increased 5.4% in the same period.
On the retail sales front, we are well past the pandemic lows and growth has robustly returned. Call it "revenge spending" or pent-up demand, shoppers are once again eagerly shopping online and in-store and looking forward to a positive holiday season.
Contrary to this USA trend, retail sales in Europe slowed in August rising only 0.3%, after a sharp decline in July of -2.3%. The other very important global retail economy of China had August sales rising 2.5% which a deterioration from July's 8.5% increase. For the year, China's retail sales are expected to grow 15%.
As we approach the critical 2021 retail holiday season, "uncertainty" seems to be the operative word. What are the latest holiday forecasts? Will Santa Claus arrive on time with all those presents? Will the Grinch steal Christmas?
Digital Retail Sales Influence Globally is Here to Stay
This coming week, I have the pleasure to share the webinar stage with two major retailers to discuss trends in both retail and loss prevention this coming holiday season and into 2022. Below is one of the charts that introduces our discussion on global retail sales holiday trends.
The data and quote are from salesforce.com. Fully agree with their conclusion that digital influence is accelerating worldwide and will be a key component to the 2021 holiday shopping season.
Globally, Salesforce is predicting 7% growth in digital commerce for November and December (slowing dramatically from 50% YOY growth in 2020). For the USA, digital growth is project at 10% in 2021, slowing down from 43% YOY growth in 2020. Note the headwind in rising consumer prices driving some of the 2021 growth. Salesforce predicts -2% global holiday orders with USA at -4%.
2021 USA Retail Holiday Season Forecasts
All USA forecasts point to positive growth this holiday season. Deloitte forecasts an increase between 7% to 9% with holiday sales totaling $1.28 to $1.3 trillion during the November to January timeframe. E-commerce sales are projected to grow 11-15% in the same period.
Every year Bain & Company publishes an insightful retail holiday infographic summarizing their projections. Bain also predicts an increase of 7% in USA this holiday season, the second highest growth rate in more than 20 years.
Interesting is the changing mix between 2020 (the highest growth year in 20+ years) and 2021. in 2020, of the 8.6% growth, 5.3% was from e-commerce and 3.3% was from physical stores. The opposite is expected for 2021 with 5% of the growth coming from physical stores and 2% from ecommerce.
Bain projects total holiday spending to reach $800 billion in 2021 with 75% of that volume being fulfilled in physical stores. Tailwinds driving this positive forecast include inflation rates, employment levels, wage growth, savings & credit availability, and pent-up demand in some categories. Potential headwinds that may slow down sales include product availability, labor supply, non-retail spending, YOY comparable retail sales, and a COVID-19 fourth wave.
Good news as robust spending is expected in pandemic hard hit categories such as apparel and accessories. Same is expected in appliances and electronics, although supply chain challenges will slow their sales growth. Transitioning to growth patterns consistent with pre-pandemic historical trends are food & beverage and DIY.
Will Santa Claus or the Grinch Show up this Holiday Season?
Although I am cheering for above forecasts for this coming holiday season, more recent data points to substantial headwinds that will slow down growth. The IHL Group lowered their forecast across the 13 retail segments that they track to +5-6%. "And it’s important to realize that this still is a historically great for holiday sales increases by comparison. But we believe 3% growth in the other forecasts will be left on the table due to mandates, unemployment increases and shortages of product and labor as they ripple through the industry."
Foreshadowing these challenges was a June White House blog where the following charts were shared.
Note the low availability of inventory in retail in the first chart and retail trade as an industry being the third most disrupted by supply chains in the second chart. Computer chips which are ubiquitous to our lives and to our most coveted Christmas presents are expected according to Forrester to be in short supply until 2023. Costco has once again started rationing toilet paper. In the USA, the price of gasoline advanced 42.1% in the 12 months ended September.
It's not the end of the world. Retail sales will be strong this year globally, but will be impacted by rising prices and shortages. All the data once again confirms that physical stores are alive and well and will play a key role in the future of retail. We are emerging out of pandemic, but it will take more time.
Santa Claus will still arrive this year, provided you shopped early for your special holiday gifts. The Grinch will continue to be with us and will find unexpected ways to slow down the continued global recovery.