November Retail Sales: A Solid Start for the Holiday Shopping Season

By at 14 December, 2018, 6:01 pm


by Raymond J. Keating-

At first glance, the topline growth number of 0.2 percent on retail sales for November would seem a bit underwhelming. But digging just below the surface, one discovers a better story.

When you factor out volatile gas station sales, retail sales in November grew by 0.5 percent. That points to a solid start to the holiday shopping season.

Compared to a year earlier, retail and food service sales grew by 4.2 percent.

Also, looking at the past two months, the average monthly growth rate in retail and food service sales registered 0.65 percent. And the last three months of retail sales – September to November – grew by 4.3 percent over the same period last year.

So, taking in the entire picture, retail sales looked strong in recent months and over the past year.

Holiday sales warrant attention because they represent such a significant share of retail businesses sales. As the National Retail Federation has noted:

“For some retailers, the holiday season can represent as much as 30 percent of annual sales with hobby, toy and game stores reporting the highest percentage, accounting for approximately 30.1  percent of their sales during the 2017 holiday season. Overall, last year holiday sales represented nearly 20 percent of total retail industry sales.”

And of course, the retail trade is overwhelmingly about small businesses, with 80.4 percent of employer firms in retail having fewer than 10 employees, 91.1 percent fewer than 20 employees, and 98.4 percent fewer than 100 workers.

Solid retail sales is solid news for small business, and 2018 has been a strong year. It appears as though it is ending on a positive note as well. The Census Bureau’s latest look at retail sales, through the first ten months of 2018 (compared to the same period last year) finds that retail and food service sales were up by 5.4 percent.


Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.


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