Retail sector’s holiday winners and losers

Overall retail sales rose, led by electronics, home furnishings

Americans being stuck at home or out of work this holiday season did not hamper holiday retails sales, according to data compiled by Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks overall retail spending across all payment types.

Preliminary data from SpendingPulse found that holiday retail sales, excluding automotive and gasoline, rose 3% this year compared to 2019. Online sales grew 49% year-over-year.

“American consumers turned the holiday season on its head, redefining ‘home for the holidays’ in a uniquely 2020 way. They shopped from home for the home, leading to record e-commerce growth,” said Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard and former CEO and chairman of Saks Inc.

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Many retailers kicked off holiday sales early. SpendingPulse compared the “75 days of Christmas” (Oct. 11-Dec. 24) in 2020 to the same 75-day period in 2019 and found total retail, excluding auto and gas, rose 3%. The “traditional” holiday shopping period of Nov. 1 through Dec. 24 saw a 2.4% increase with e-commerce sales up 47.2%.  

“Consumers shopped earlier than ever before,” Sadove added. “Across our expanded 75-day holiday shopping season, sales were up 3.0%, a testament to the holiday season and strength of retailers and consumers alike.”

SONAR data shows retail sales at department stores over a five-year period. (SONAR: RESLG.DEPT)

Online spending accounted for 19.7% of all retail sales, Mastercard said, a 6.3% increase from 2019.

With so many Americans home for the holidays, spending on home furniture and furnishings jumped 16.2% in 2020, including 31% growth online. Home improvement posted a 14.1% increase powered by a 79.7% growth online.

SONAR data shows non-store retail sales over a five-year period. (SONAR: RESL.NSTR)

Traditional department stores saw online sales growth of just 3.3% and an overall sales decline of 10.2%. Apparel sales also took a hit with more spending moving online, falling 19.1% year-over-year. Electronics and appliances improved 6%.

Grocery also posted an increase, rising 6.8%, SpendingPulse found, but jewelry, down 4.3%,

Jewelry did post 44.6% growth in online sales but it wasn’t enough to offset in-store sales declines, with overall sales falling 4.3%. Luxury (excluding jewelry) was also a holiday loser, down 21.1%, SpendingPulse said.

Black Friday was the top spending day of 2020, although sales on that particular day declined 16.1% as retailers started offering Black Friday deals earlier this year.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Brian Straight.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at