December retail sales fall 1.9% after early holiday rush – Orange County Register

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By Anne D’Innocenzio | The Associated Press

Americans, beset by lack of product choices, rising prices and the arrival of omicron, sharply cut their spending in December after a burst of early buying in the fall boosted this year’s holiday shopping season.

Retail sales fell a seasonally adjusted 1.9% in December from November when sales increased 0.3%, the U.S. Commerce Department said Friday. Sales rose 1.8% in October as shoppers, worried about product shortages, got a head start on their holiday buying.

Still, retail sales surged 16.9% last month compared with December 2020, the Commerce Department said Friday. For all of 2021, sales spiked 19.3% compared with the previous year.

Spending declines were spread across numerous sectors. Department store sales fell 7%, restaurant sales slipped 0.8% and online sales fell 8.7% compared with the previous month, according to the report.

Omicron was identified by the World Health Organization in late November, and the December report from the Commerce Department is the first to capture some of its effect on consumer behavior.

The monthly retail report covers only about a third of overall consumer spending and doesn’t include money spent on things like haircuts, hotel stays or plane tickets, all which tend to see business tail off when anxiety about COVID-19 tick higher. In November, restaurant sales posted a 1% gain — the sector’s best performance since July.

Industry analysts suspect that shoppers who waited until the last minute and didn’t find what they wanted and took a pass or they bought gift cards, would would not show up in retail data until those cards are redeemed.

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