Good news for retailers this holiday season: Americans are spending on big-ticket items

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/09/13/good-news-retailers
Americans are buying big-ticket items again, giving new hope to retailers ahead of the crucial holiday season. (Gerry Broome/AP)
Americans are buying big-ticket items again, giving new hope to retailers ahead of the crucial holiday season. (Gerry Broome/AP) By Abha Bhattarai Abha Bhattarai Reporter covering the retail industry Email Bio Follow September 13

Americans spent a record $2 billion online on Labor Day, making it one of the biggest online shopping days of the year and giving new hope to retailers ahead of the closely watched holiday season.

Online spending on Labor Day grew 23 percent to $2.08 billion, from $1.69 billion a year earlier, as shoppers bought big-ticket items like electronics, appliances, mattresses and grills, according to data from Adobe Analytics being released Friday.

The data paint a picture of growing consumer confidence, as a low unemployment rate and signs of wage growth help boost sales for some of the country's largest retailers. Walmart, Nordstrom and Home Depot have all posted strong quarterly sales in recent weeks, and economists say they expect that momentum to continue through the end of the year.

“The numbers bear out that we’re in for a good holiday season,” said Michael Klein, director of retail industry strategy for Adobe. “Consumers were shopping for larger and more expensive products during Labor Day, after slower growth in the first half of the year."

The retail industry, which has weathered its share of economic challenges and bankruptcies since the Great Recession, had a particularly good holiday season last year. Sales rose 5.5 percent to $691.9 billion in November and December 2017, marking the strongest growth in holiday retail sales in 12 years, according to the National Retail Federation. The lobbying group has yet to release this year’s holiday forecast.

But so far, retailers seem optimistic: A number of firms, from Walmart to Tiffany & Co., have raised their 2018 outlooks in the past month, as consumers continue to spend both online and in stores.

“There is no doubt that, like others, we’re benefiting from a strong consumer environment — perhaps the strongest I’ve seen in my career,” Brian Cornell, Target’s chief executive, said in an earnings call last month. Online sales at Target.com jumped 41 percent in the most recent quarter, while overall sales growth rose to a 13-year high.

Nationally, the 23 percent bump on Labor Day surpassed sales growth during other holidays this year, including Memorial Day (when online sales rose 19 percent to $1.92 billion) and the Fourth of July (up 13 percent to $1.38 billion), according to Adobe Analytics, which measured online transactions at 80 of the country’s 100 largest websites.

Adobe also found consumers are increasingly buying straight from their phones. Roughly 30 percent of Labor Day orders were placed on a smartphone, compared with 60 percent on desktop computers and 10 percent on tablets. (It is noteworthy, though, that desktop-shoppers tend to spend more than counterparts using smaller devices: The average desktop shopper spent $142 per order on Labor Day, compared with $125 while shopping on a tablet and $111 on a smartphone.)

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