Creating Resilience

2021 Retail Holiday Sales Rose by 13%

January 21, 2022 2 Minute Read

Core retail sales for the November/December holiday season, including e-commerce, rose by 13% year-over-year to $757 billion. Sales exceeded expectations despite diminishing consumer confidence and the COVID-19 omicron variant. Total retail sales, which include auto, gas and food & beverage sales, increased by 16% to $903 billion, although the steep rise in inflation undoubtedly contributed to this gain.

Black Friday weekend brick-and-mortar retail foot traffic was below pre-pandemic 2019 levels but showed a significant gain in the weeks prior to Black Friday. This suggests that consumers began their holiday shopping earlier than usual in 2021. Almost all retail categories had sales gains both year-over-year and from 2019, with core retail sales rising above expectations.

Figure 1: Holiday Retail Sales Percentage Growth by Category

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Holiday season refers to November and December.
Core Retail sales excludes auto, gas and food services & drinking places.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, January 2022.

Holiday sales by nonstore or e-commerce retailers rose by 10% year-over-year to $173 billion, while restaurants & bars had the highest year-over-year gain of 39% to $145 billion.

Figure 2: Weekly Retail Foot Traffic Percentage Change vs. 2019

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Source:, January 2022.

Data on weekly retail foot traffic verifies a longer holiday shopping season in 2021. Retail visits began to increase on October 11, reaching weekly levels not seen since the summer season. In addition, both the weeks leading up to and after Thanksgiving had an increased amount of foot traffic compared with 2019.

A portion of these holiday sales gains can be attributed to rising inflation, as the Consumer Price Index rose by more than 7% in October and remained elevated through December. Nevertheless, the increase in foot traffic bodes well for retail performance in 2022, although retail sales could be negatively impacted by the omicron variant in the traditionally slower months of January and February.