Holiday shoppers are feeling generous this year, retail sales are poised for big gains

Key Points
  • Mastercard SpendingPulse projects 2017 will see the strongest holiday season sales growth since 2010, potentially surpassing 5 percent year-over-year growth.
  • First Data is even more bullish. From Nov. 1 to Dec. 11, it said, retail sales grew 5.4 percent from the period a year ago.
  • NPD sees strong sales of beauty products. Home appliances and technology also have posted gains.
Holiday shoppers in North Attleboro, Massachusetts.
Derek Davis | Portland Press Herald | Getty Images

It's crunch time for gift-givers this holiday season.

With 10 days left until Christmas, retailers are hoping to cash in on the final stretch of shopping. So far, spending is strong.

While the sales growth rates vary between different data gathering firms and techniques, the overall trend shows a better holiday season for retailers so far this year.

Here's a roundup of the latest spending data:

Mastercard SpendingPulse

According to Mastercard SpendingPulse, U.S. retail spending is up 3.6 percent between Nov. 1 and Dec. 9 from the same period in 2016. E-commerce sales are up 16.3 percent since November.

What's more, Mastercard SpendingPulse projects 2017 will see the strongest holiday season sales growth since 2010, potentially surpassing 5 percent year-over-year growth.

SpendingPulse figures are based on aggregated sales activity in the Mastercard payment network, coupled with survey-based estimates for other payment forms.

When it comes to category strength, Mastercard says home-related purchases are leading the way. While not typically thought of as a gift, home improvement-related sales are up 11.6 percent and home furniture and furnishings are up 3.5 percent over 2016 holiday levels.

The early doorbuster deals from such retailers as Best Buy, Kohl's and Target look to have captured shoppers' early dollars and attention. Mastercard said the first three weeks of November saw a significant spending increase over last year, particularly the week ending on Nov. 11.

Spending patterns are showing the typical "lull" period in early to mid-December. Another big shopping surge is expected in the final week before Christmas.

First Data

First Data is even more bullish on the holiday spending based on the results of its latest sample of 1.3 million brick-and-mortar and online merchants' point-of-sale activity.

In its mid-season update, First Data said not only is retail sales growth strong at 5.4 percent higher than last year from Nov. 1 to Dec. 11, it's more than double last year's growth rate of 2 percent.

While e-commerce is outperforming sales in physical retail, First Data numbers show 3.9 percent growth for brick-and-mortar store sales so far this season. Electronics and appliances sales are leading the way, with a 9.3 percent improvement over last year. Building materials and do-it-yourself goods are up 6.9 percent.

However, sporting goods, hobby, books and music sales are down 0.9 percent year over year. That's similar to last year's rate at this time, but this year it's the only First Data category that's down. In 2016, First Data said four categories were seeing lower sales at this point in the season.

Geographically, First Data says consumers in the Southwest are spending the most, up nearly 6 percent from last year, which could be in part a halo effect of hurricane recovery. Spending in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, however, is meager in comparison, up just 1.4 percent.


Data from industry tracking firm NPD said retail sales are up 2 percent in the first five weeks of the season through Dec. 2 across general merchandise categories. Like MasterCard's data, NPD sees a surge in the second week with sales up 9 percent from 2016.

NPD gathers its data from leading retailers providing weekly point-of-sale data in U.S. stores and online in apparel, toys, technology, athletic footwear, prestige beauty, small home appliances and office supplies.

By category, the group says small home appliances, prestige beauty and technology lead the first week of December. But for the season so far, beauty is the winner.

"While the first week of November started out slow, with a 3 percent gain for beauty, week 2 experienced a 15 percent increase and weeks 3 and 4 have seen beauty sales really take off, posting the strongest gains of all the industries NPD is tracking this holiday," Larissa Jensen, NPD executive director and beauty industry analyst, said in a blog post.

The top performing product categories this season through Dec. 2, according to NPD: home automation (security and monitoring products and services), stereo headphones, kitchen appliance (driven by "cookers"), LCD TVs and sport leisure footwear.

But NPD's chief industry advisor Marshal Cohen cautions that big price discounts are taking a bite out of the total spending numbers.

"Leading segments are struggling to make up for aggressive promotions that counteract positive product movement in others," Cohen said.