The US retail sector is rubbing its hand together with collective glee with news the recent holiday season delivered the high sales that were expected.
Figures released by the National Retail Federation indicate holiday retail sales totalled $730.2 billion, putting them at the upper echelon of predictions and indicating growth of 4.1 per cent on 2018.
The welcome news arrived as a further NRF report revealed convenience is now a key factor that consumers seek.
So, let’s walk through the bumper holiday season and also examine the findings of the latest NRF Consumer View Report.
A bumper holiday
In October 2019, the NRF released their sales predictions for the holiday season ahead, noting they anticipated holiday sales during November and December would increase between 3.8 per cent and 4.2 per cent for a total of between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion.
The final figures were in the upper band of what was expected with actual sales growth of 4.1 per to total $730.2 billion.
This was almost twice the growth rate of 2018, with online sales leading the retail charge.
- Online and other non-store sales were up 14.6 per cent year-over-year
- Grocery and beverage stores increased 2.9 per cent.
- Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 2.6 per
- Health and personal care stores were up 1.6 per cent
- Building materials and garden supply stores were up 1 per cent
- General merchandise stores were up 0.4 per cent
Areas faring less well and reporting slight reductions included:
- Sporting goods stores, which were down 0.4 per cent
- Clothing and clothing accessory stores – down 1.6 per cent
- Electronics and appliance stores – down 2 per cent
Noting the sales totals reflected a “healthy holiday period”, NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said it indicated consumer confidence.
“Despite a late Thanksgiving and worries about tariffs, the consumer didn’t go away. We’ve had months of strong employment numbers, high wages and strong household balance sheets,” he said.
“There’s no doubt that gave consumers a sense of confidence about their ability to spend, and they did their part to keep the economy moving.”
In the meantime, the NRF has also released its latest Consumer View Report, looking at the role of convenience in modern retail.
Latest consumer findings
The latest Consumer View Report takes a deep dive into which factors impact purchasing decisions.
Conducted over winter and the holiday sales period, the report found quality ranks as the most important factor in most people’s purchasing decisions, with 32 per cent of survey respondents indicating it was the main reason they selected an item.
Low price was the second most important criteria at 30 per cent, while convenience ranked third (13 per cent), brand values came in fourth (12 per cent), and overall brand accounted for 11 per cent.
However, the concept of convenience proved an interesting one.
The role of convenience in retail
Although only one in 10 people indicated convenience was the main factor that prompted them to make a purchase, an astounding 97 per cent of shoppers noted they have backed out of a purchase because it was inconvenient to them.
Meanwhile, 83 per cent indicated convenience is now more important to them than it was just five years ago, and for some purchases, convenience is far more important than for others.
The report found groceries top the list of products where consumers seek convenience, with 63 per cent of survey respondents saying it was “very important” and 64 indicating they’d be willing to pay more for it.
Next was clothing. Almost half (47 per cent) said convenience was very important, while 61 per cent will pay more for it.
Third was electronics, with 42 per cent of people indicating convenience was very important, and 59 per cent noting they’d be willing to pay more for it.
Personal care products and also pet supplies were next on the list, with 41 per cent of people indicating convenience was very important when purchasing in either of these categories, and 58 per cent were willing to pay more for it when buying products.
When convenience counts
Finally, the report noted convenience matters more at some points of the purchasing journey than others.
In online retail, 38 per cent of people indicated convenience matters most in the research phase, that was followed by post purchase (23 per cent), then right before the purchase (20 per cent), and finally at the checkout 18 per cent.
In store, convenience matters most at the checkout (40 per cent), right before making a purchase (25 per cent), post purchase (18 per cent), and then in the research phase (16 per cent).
The final takeaway
As consumers feel more pressed for time, convenience now counts more than ever, and that’s only likely to increase in the coming years. As a result, consumers have welcomed initiatives like Buy Online Pickup Instore, but for many retailers there’s room for improvement, and the rewards will be worth the effort.
If retailers can offer a more convenience shopping experience, chances are consumers will pay more for the privilege.