January 15, 2013, 10:12 AM

Direct retailers lead the way in holiday sales

Sales for web and other non-store retailers grew 11.3% versus 3.2% for stores.

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The biggest sales gains for the 2012 holiday season went to retailers that sell directly to consumers via the web, catalogs and TV, confirm U.S. Commerce Department figures released today.

Total retail sales, excluding automotive, increased 4.1% on a seasonally adjusted basis for November and December 2012 over the same months a year earlier, to $738.7 billion from $709.7 billion. Non-store retail sales increased 11.3% to $77.2 billion from $69.0 billion. When taking out the gain by non-store retailers—mainly online retailers but also merchants that sell through catalogs and TV infomercials—store retail sales increased 3.2% in November and December over the prior year.

For the year, total retail sales, taking out sales of vehicles and parts, increased 4.9% and non-store retail sales increased 11.6%.

The U.S. Commerce Department will release its detailed breakdown of U.S. e-commerce sales for the fourth quarter and all of 2012 on Feb. 15.

For December, total non-automotive retail sales increased 4.4% and non-store sales increased 11.3%.

“While non-store retail sales increased a hearty 11% this December, total December sales could not make up for shortfalls in certain categories like electronics,” says National Retail Federation chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. “Heading into 2013, consumers could continue to think twice about their discretionary purchases as they face decreases in their paychecks and other concerns with their household budgets.” Total electronics sales, not adjusted for seasonal differences, decreased nearly 0.3% in December 2012 compared to December 2011.

When excluding sales at restaurants and bars, the National Retail Federation says November-December 2012 sales increased 3.0% over the prior year, well below NRF’s prediction of a 4.1% increase. The uncertainty caused by the standoff in Washington over economic policy late last year contributed to the disappointing results, says NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “For over six months, we’ve been saying that the fiscal cliff and economic uncertainty could impact holiday sales,” Shay says. “As the number shows, these issues had a visible impact on consumer spending this holiday season.”

In a separate survey, comScore Inc. reported this month U.S. online retail sales increased 13.7% in November and December 2012 over the prior year to $42.28 billion from $37.17 billion. ComScore makes its estimated based on tracking the actual online purchases of a panel of U.S. consumers; the Commerce Department bases its figures on surveys of retailers.

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