Early results on the holiday shopping season suggest consumers proved to be resilient and flexible just as they have been throughout the pandemic recovery, jolting holiday sales to a banner year in 2021
Heading into the crucial holiday shopping season, several downside risks threatened to spoil what had already been an undeniably strong year for U.S. retail sales. Would the Omicron variant, fading fiscal stimulus, elevated inflation, and supply chain bottlenecks conspire to limit gift-buying this year? Early results on the holiday shopping season suggest the answer is ‘no’—consumers proved to be resilient and flexible just as they have been throughout the pandemic recovery, jolting holiday sales to a banner year in 2021.
Holiday sales (retail excluding autos) for November 1-December 24 rose 8.5% year-over-year (YoY) – the fastest pace in 17 years, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse. Online sales grew 11% and in-store sales were up 8.1%.
E-commerce accounted for about 21% of total holiday sales, only marginally higher than in 2020, but up substantially from the 14.6% share in 2019. In other words, e-commerce penetration leveled out in 2021, but remains elevated compared to the pre-COVID trend.
A strong recovery for in-store sales was the big story thanks to revitalized foot traffic across all retail segments. According to Placer.ai, foot traffic at leading discount stores was up between 3-8% from 2019 levels during Black Friday weekend. Even indoor malls were within earshot of “normal” foot traffic, just 5% below 2019.
The well-documented supply chain log jam ended up being a non-factor for holiday sales overall, even though it undoubtedly constrained certain products and brands. Earlier shopping by consumers and investments by logistics firms—including increased hiring and warehouse capacity—helped alleviate delays. The New York Times reported that UPS and the Postal Service delivered about 99 percent of their packages on time between November 14 and December 11, and FedEx was close behind at 97 percent, according to ShipMatrix.
Gift cards likely grew in popularity this year amid virus-related disruptions to holiday gatherings. Along with improved consumer expectations in December, this may help mitigate a holiday hangover for retail sales. An NRF survey suggested 65% of consumers planned to shop the week after Christmas.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR CRE:
Consumer demand for retail goods is the strongest in years and is not likely to let up despite the Omicron speedbump. Categories such as apparel, department stores, and jewelry stores were leading drivers of holiday sales growth, suggesting that Americans look forward to returning to offices and social engagements. This is an indication that recovery to urban core property fundamentals is imminent.
E-commerce is becoming a more powerful complement to in-store shopping. The pandemic forced retailers to innovate and refine their fulfillment strategies to accommodate unrelenting consumer demand for a flexible, multi-channel shopping experience. Retailers who have outperformed are likely to continue to gain market share and lease out more space to support their growing footprints.
HOW TO PLAY IT:
A rapid consumer recovery, propelled further by a strong holiday, is a harbinger of recovering fundamentals. As established retailers expand footprints and digitally native brands increasingly open storefronts, expect fewer concessions and increasingly tighter conditions in 2022.
For most retail real estate, a recovery began in 2021, yet yields have remained flat and debt spreads have widened beyond historic average levels. Look for a higher share of allocation to return to this asset class, with heightened competition and improving NOI.
STRONG HOLIDAY SALES LIKELY A PRECURSOR FOR CONTINUED GROWTH