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Holiday spending showed a modest increase in 2020

The pandemic changed how consumers shopped and what they bought

Photo (c) RainStar - Getty Images
Consumers spent more on the holidays than last year, but not by much. In this season shaped by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Mastercard’s SpendingPulse report shows that sales between November 1 and Christmas Eve grew by 2.4 percent year-over-year.

“American consumers turned the holiday season on its head, redefining ‘home for the holidays’ in a uniquely 2020 way,” said Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard.

Sales from online shopping grew by a staggering 49 percent. That was hardly a surprise, though, since consumers hunkering down at home were ordering just about everything online.

What consumers purchased this season was also a bit different. The report shows spending was down on traditional gift items -- notably apparel -- and much higher for home furnishings. In fact, home furniture and furnishings saw the strongest growth of any sector compared to 2019, up 16.2 percent. Online spending for the home surged 31 percent compared to last year.

People working from home apparently decided they don’t need to dress up. Clothing sales sank 19.1 percent while electronics and appliances were up 6 percent overall.

Department stores were the big losers because fewer consumers ventured out to malls and shopping centers. Sales were down 10.2 percent year-over-year, though stores with an online channel saw their online sales increase by 3.3 percent.

Earlier start, earlier end

Consumers spread their shopping over a wider period this year. A number of major retailers, including Amazon and Walmart, staged promotions in October. The numbers show consumers took advantage of those earlier opportunities.

“Across our expanded 75-day holiday shopping season, sales were up 3 percent, a testament to the holiday season and strength of retailers and consumers alike,” Sadove said.

Because so many shoppers depended on shipping, the season drew to a close this year a lot earlier than in the past. After Black Friday, the top shopping day was December 12 -- one of the last days shippers would guarantee delivery before Christmas.

December 21, the Monday before Christmas, was the third-biggest shopping day in 2019. This year, it didn’t even crack the top 10.

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