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Clothing Store Sales Climb in November Amid Muted Retail Growth

Consumer spending on clothing outpaced the general retail sector in November, while department stores sales suffered, as U.S. retail sales rose a seasonally adjusted 0.3 percent in November to $639.8 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Wednesday.

The retail sales report was below economists’ expectations of a 0.8 percent increase compared the previous month.

Clothing and accessories store sales were up 0.5 percent in November from a month earlier to $26.49 billion. General merchandise store sales dipped 1.2 percent to $70.65 billion for the month, while department store sales, a category within the general merchandise store sector, fell 5.5 percent to $11.75 billion.

Furniture and home furnishings store sales were flat at $12.45 billion.

“Despite economic headwinds, November retail sales data confirms that consumers continue to spend, as demonstrated by a 14 percent increase in sales year-over-year,” National Retail Federation (NRF) president and CEO Matthew Shay said.

“We expect demand will remain strong through December, even though consumers started holiday shopping earlier than ever this year,” Shay said. “Despite the rise of the omicron variant, increased vaccination rates combined with retailers’ ongoing safety protocols and procedures have resulted in consumers who feel they can continue to shop safely and conveniently. We believe that holiday sales this year could grow as much as 11.5 percent over 2020.”

NRF’s calculation of retail sales, which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail, showed November was unchanged from October but up an unadjusted 14.8 percent year-over-year.

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“Consumers continued spending in November, building on momentum from strong early holiday shopping in October and setting the stage for a bright holiday season,” NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Consumers’ financial condition remains healthy and neither stubborn inflation nor CovidD-19 appear to have derailed holiday spending, despite both being top of mind. Recent labor market progress has helped propel incredibly strong demand and most shoppers have the income and savings to absorb higher prices driven by the pandemic and supply chain disruptions.”

Consumers have shopped earlier than ever this year, but NRF defines the holiday season as Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, so the November results mark the completion of the first half of the official peak period. NRF currently expects that 2021 holiday sales during the two months could grow as much as 11.5 percent over 2020, exceeding its earlier forecast of between 8.5 percent and 10.5 percent growth. Even at the low end of the range, both the amount spent and the growth rate would set new records, it noted.

For the first 11 months of the year, sales as calculated by NRF were up 14.2 percent over the same period in 2020. That is consistent with NRF’s forecast that retail sales for the full year should grow between 10.5 and 13.5 percent over 2020 to between $4.44 trillion and $4.56 trillion.