Americans Splurge On Couches, Hammers During 75 Days Of ‘Christmas Shopping’

The holiday shopping season encompasses 75 days now, apparently.

That’s according to Mastercard, which decided to measure spending using an expanded timeframe for its SpendingPulse report. Specifically, sales were measured from October 11 through December 24 to account for retailers’ efforts to help control COVID. The idea was that by starting sales sooner, shopping would be spread out, reducing crowd sizes.

The jokes write themselves. There are only 365 days in a year. If we’re going to start counting three weeks before Halloween, then 20% of every year counts as “the holiday shopping season.”

But that’s what we’re going with. Or at least that’s what Mastercard is going with, and this year, total retail sales excluding autos and gas rose 3% during what the company called the “75 Days of Christmas” (which sounds like one of those creepy, year-round Santa-themed shops you might have found nestled in a decaying strip mall next to what used to be a Circuit City).

For what it’s worth, that’s considerably better than the 3.5% decline seen after Lehman, in 2008. Over the traditional holiday shopping season, sales rose 2.4%, Mastercard said.

Of course, this doesn’t mean consumers flooded physical locations with actual foot traffic. E-commerce sales rose 49% during the expanded window, and by more than 47% over the traditional holiday season.

“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 and former CEO and Chairman of Saks.

That’s a helluva euphemism for this: “Consumers shopped online because they were scared of contracting deadly viral pneumonia, which was spreading across the country at a terrifying rate during the period, and which, by Christmas, was killing more Americans every, single day than died in 9/11.” I guess that doesn’t sound as good in a press release.

Sadove continued: “Consumers shopped earlier than ever before. Across our expanded 75-day holiday shopping season, sales were up 3.0%, a testament to the holiday season and strength of retailers and consumers alike.”

I’m not sure that’s the most accurate way to conceptualize of the situation. For one thing, consumer spending and retail sales were disappointing in both October and November according to government data.

Additionally, Americans’ checking accounts were still elevated versus 2019 in October thanks to the lingering effects of federal pandemic relief and what I’ll generously describe as “precautionary savings” (a less generous description would be: “Panicked cash hoarding”). That dry powder was the result of exigent circumstances that have no historical parallel.

Further, a look at the breakdown from Mastercard shows that “home furniture and furnishings experienced the strongest growth of any sector compared to 2019, up 16.2%.” Home improvement sales rose more than 14%. 

That’s just another manifestation of the stay-at-home trend and the housing bubble created by the pandemic and record-low mortgage rates.

While you might buy furniture for your significant other around the holidays, those kinds of “gifts” are usually negotiated ahead of time. You don’t pick out a living room set without consulting your spouse, conceal it in 800 yards of wrapping paper, and have your neighbors help you haul it in and position it under the tree. And you can’t exactly hide it in the garage either.

The point is: I’m not sure we’re capturing anything like what we might normally capture in terms of holiday shopping dynamics.

Speaking of what we traditionally associate with holiday shopping, that’s where the weakness is. Apparel sales plunged 19% while department store sales dropped 10.2%.

Luxury items suffered a 21% decline while jewelry sales fell 4.3%.

But hey, who needs Dior and diamonds when you just unwrapped a gorgeous plastic mat for your rolling home office desk chair, right?

And what about that brand new hammer? That’s a thing of beauty.

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3 thoughts on “Americans Splurge On Couches, Hammers During 75 Days Of ‘Christmas Shopping’

  1. “You don’t pick out a living room set without consulting your spouse, conceal it in 800 yards of wrapping paper, and have your neighbors help you haul it in and position it under the tree.”

    My wife’s brother-in-law did something like that. His wife was not pleased with his choice.

  2. Given that the 10% and 5% income cohorts are doing just fine, I suppose this tells us everything we need to know about who comprises the market for luxury retail.

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