Record-Breaking Holiday Means A Record-Breaking Deluge Of Returns For Retailers


Early results are in and holiday retail sales increased 8.5% year-over-year from November 1 through December 24, according to Mastercard Spending Pulse. That is on the low end but still in line with the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) original prediction of an 8.5% to 10.5% percent holiday increase, though it has since gone even higher to 11.5%.

Tallying consumer retail spending excluding automobiles and across all payment types including cash and check, Mastercard reports sales rose 8.1% in-store and 11% in e-commerce.

But the bigger news is that e-commerce sales advanced 61.4% over pre-pandemic 2019. This year e-commerce accounted for over 20% of consumers’ holiday spending, up from 15% in 2019.

Drilling down by retail category, Mastercard found that apparel stores advanced the most with sales up nearly 50% over previous year. Jewelry stores saw a nearly one-third increase in sales and even department stores got a 21% kick.

“Consumers splurged throughout the season, with apparel and department stores experiencing strong growth as shoppers sought to put their best-dressed foot forward,” commented Steve Sadove, Mastercard senior advisor and former CEO and chairman of Saks.

But before retailers can enjoy the windfall from consumers’ exuberant holiday spending, they are going to have to deal with the inevitable aftermath: returns. Last year, the NRF estimated 13.3% of merchandise sold during the holiday season was returned – some $101 billion worth.

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