U.S. holiday sales rise 4.1% in 2019 on strong online sales: NRF

(Reuters) - U.S. holiday sales rose 4.1% in 2019 from a year earlier, as steady wage and jobs growth encouraged shoppers to splurge on groceries, beverages and furniture, the National Retail Federation (NRF) said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Families wait in line to meet Santa Claus at Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, decorated for the holidays, in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. December 23, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The U.S. retail group said holiday sales, excluding automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, rose to $730.2 billion, largely above the midpoint of its forecast of 3.8% to 4.2% growth, and up from a modest 2.1% growth last year.

“This was a healthy holiday season, especially compared with the decline in retail sales we saw at the end of the season in 2018,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said, noting that trade policy turmoil, a government shutdown and financial market volatility took a toll on the industry.

The trade body also said online and non-store sales, which are included in the overall number, grew 14.6% to $167.8 billion, marking at least the fourth consecutive year of double-digit gains.

NRF had forecast the online retail sector would grow between 11% and 14%, to between $162.6 billion and $166.9 billion.

Sales of beverage, grocery and furniture also posted strong growth, while sales of apparel, electronics and appliances and sporting goods fell.

Macy's Inc M.N, Kohl's Corp KSS.N and J.C. Penney Co Inc JCP.N are among the several retailers that have reported dismal holiday sales for 2019, while Inc AMZN.O reported a "record" holiday season without releasing any sales figures.

(Graphic: Holiday cheer for e-commerce click, )

NRF numbers are based on data from the U.S. Commerce Department, which on Thursday said overall December sales, including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants, rose 0.3% from November and 5.8% from the same period last year.

The holiday shopping season accounts for up to 40% of annual sales for retailers. However, this year, it was cut short by six days as Thanksgiving Day, which traditionally kicks off the shopping period, fell on Nov. 28.

“Despite a late Thanksgiving and worries about tariffs, the consumer didn’t go away,” NRF’s Kleinhenz said.

Reporting by Praveen Paramasivam in Bengaluru and Melissa Fares in New York; Editing by Aditya Soni and Richard Chang