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Measuring the Holiday Shopping Season

Wed Nov 15 2017
Written by: Andrew W. Hait, International Trade Management Division
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As the holiday shopping season nears, U.S. retailers are gearing up for the promotions to attract shoppers into their stores.  From the infamous Black Friday sales at major retailers, the unique shopping experiences offered by local small businesses as part of Small Business Saturday, and the online offers available on Cyber Monday, customers have countless opportunities to spend their hard-earned income on family and friends. But just how important are these shopping events to retailers and the national economy as a whole? How much of a role do these three days play in kicking off the holiday shopping season? The U.S. Census Bureau helps measure the importance of this through our monthly economic survey, the Monthly Retail Trade Survey report.

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This survey showed that 8.5 percent of the approximately $5.5 trillion in total retail and food services sales during 2016 was generated during November and 9.8 percent was generated in December. (These monthly sales estimates are not adjusted for seasonal variation or holiday or trading day differences.) November and December are even more important for certain industries. Of the nearly $18.8 billion in sales of hobby, toy, and game stores (NAICS 45112) in 2016, 12.3 percent was in November and 18.9 percent was in December. Of the total sales of department stores (excluding discount department stores) (NAICS 452111) in 2016 ($56.4 billion), 10.3 percent were in November and 15.7 percent were in December. Finally, nearly 19.8 percent of 2016’s annual sales of jewelry stores (NAICS 44831) ($32.9 billion) was earned in December alone.  For many retail trade businesses, a successful holiday shopping season can make the difference between staying in business and closing their doors.


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And how important are online sales in this equation? Available quarterly, the Census Bureau’s Quarterly E-Commerce report helps retailers understand the importance of online sales. In fourth quarter 2016, $122.5 billion of the $1.3 trillion in total retail sales (or 9.4 percent) were attributed to e-Commerce. This was up 32.2 percent from the e-Commerce sales reported in third quarter 2016, $92.6 billion, or 7.6 percent of total retail sales.

Finally, what about our small local businesses that are promoted during Small Business Saturday? How important are they to our local economies? The Statistics of U.S. Businesses program tells us that about 5.3 million of the total 5.9 million employer firms in the U.S. in 2015 had fewer than 20 employees. These small businesses employed 20.8 million people and reported total annual payrolls of $828.7 billion. While enterprises with more than 500 employees reported total employment of 65.1 million, there are only 19,464 of these large firms. Large retail businesses are the “anchors” at local shopping centers, but it’s the dozens of small retail businesses that often make up the character of the center.

Whether you choose to brave the malls on Black Friday, support your local entrepreneurs on Small Business Saturday, or use up your monthly data plan shopping online on Cyber Monday, know that your shopping activities boost our national economy and support millions of retail workers and their families.

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