Early Holiday Sales Setting the Stage for Solid Retail Christmas

If you’re out doing your Christmas shopping this weekend, you’ve undoubtedly noticed you’re not alone. In fact, if the pace set over the weeks leading up to Black Friday, Shop Local Saturday, Cyber Monday and beyond continues, it’s looking to be a relatively robust season for retailers this year.

According to a BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research report this week, America’s shopping public hit the season at a sprinter’s pace in the earliest stages of the Christmas shopping run even ahead of Black Friday, posting “the best sales increase since 2013,” with the largest gains coming in the online arena.

For research purposes at BofA, “early holiday sales” are defined as the three week period ending on Black Friday. During that period this year sales increased at a 2.2-percent rate over the same time frame a year ago. The figures are based on aggregated credit and debit card sales data from parent Bank of America.

The researchers are also quick to point out that, as was seen last year when the season started out great before shoppers began to rein things in later in December, “the predictive power” of the early returns “is not great.” In other words, while it looks robust now, anything can happen through the final weeks leading up to Christmas.

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Nevertheless, based on the strong start, the researchers say in their report, “Translating our data into the official numbers derived from the Census Bureau, we would not be surprised if we end up seeing total holiday sales up as much as 4-percent.”

Singling out online sales in that early holiday period, the research team turned up Internet sales increases of some 14-percent over the same period in 2018, while in-store shopping was a more restrained 2-percent bump over last year.

BofA Merrill Lynch Economist Michelle Meyer led the team conducting the research. The team concludes, “The holidays still give people a good reason to shop, and shopping they are doing.”