Holiday Data Shows Surprisingly Strong Finish to the Year

Economy, consumer confidence and easing discount pressure

Author: Rimma Kats

January 10, 2018

New data from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) shows 2017 holiday spending rose dramatically over the previous year, a surprisingly positive conclusion to a year marked by widespread store closings and retail bankruptcies.

The ICSC reported that consumers spent an average of $841.50 on holiday items this past season—a whopping increase from the $711 spent in 2016.

The survey was released on the heels of a rash of early reports of solid holiday sales results from retailers including Target, Nordstrom and Kohl’s. Target’s comparable sales, for example, grew 3.4% in the November/December period, driven in large part by digital. And Kohl’s—which has posted profit declines in 18 of the past 24 quarters—revealed that during the holidays, same-stores sales increased 7% vs. the year prior.

One worry dogging retailers through much of the year was that consumers have been conditioned to demand aggressive discounts before they part with cash. But the pressure for discounts seemed to ease a bit this year. As previously reported in eMarketer Retail, pricing firm Market Track found lower overall promotional levels as of late November.

“In previous years, holiday sales rose overall despite heavy discounting—not because of it,” said eMarketer retail analyst Yory Wurmser. “Consumers adapted to competitive discounts and waited for prices to come down, which if anything lowered revenues for the industry, if perhaps helping some individual retailers.”

“This year, consumer confidence was strong enough to boost spending strongly," he added. "In a virtuous cycle, retailers also felt less need to increase their discounts. The increased spending reflects overall economic conditions more than retailer discounts.”

Still, plenty of shoppers were looking for deals. ICSC found that roughly four in 10 holiday shoppers were influenced by deals when deciding whether to make a holiday purchase.

The study also found roughly two-thirds of respondents shopped for gifts at discount stores like Target or Walmart, while another 47% preferred to shop at traditional department stores such as Macy’s or Nordstrom. 

Separately, First Data reported that US consumer spending over the holiday season (measured as October 28 to January 1) increased 6.2% year over year.