Retail sales rose for the fourth straight month in November, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday, as shoppers flocked to stores to secure gifts before the start of the holiday season.
The 0.3% increase in sales last month, which followed a 1.8% jump in spending in October, showed that consumer demand was strong even before Thanksgiving, which has long been considered the start of the holiday shopping season. As overall sales rose, spending — the key drivers of U.S. economic activity — at grocery stores and liquor stores, gas stations, clothing retailers, and home improvement stores increased.
The rise in spending continued despite an increase in coronavirus cases and higher prices on goods because of inflation. November’s sales were lower than what economists had forecast, but sales for December are expected to increase as well.
“We saw consumers start to pantry load and think about their holiday shopping earlier than we’ve ever seen it,” Kathy Gramling, consumer industry markets consultant for EY in the Americas, said before the November numbers were released. “The great reset for retail will really be sprung in January, where we’ll see a tremendous amount of retail regret and we will see a push of returns.”
A reading on consumer sentiment, measured by a University of Michigan survey on how Americans view the general state of the economy, increased in December after falling to its lowest level in a decade in early November. Those surveyed pointed to inflation as the most serious problem the country faces, according to preliminary results published Friday.
Also on Friday, the Labor Department reported that consumer prices had risen at their fastest pace in nearly 40 years. The consumer price index was up 6.8% last month compared with a year earlier as demand for products remained strong and the virus continued to disrupt manufacturing and transportation.
U.S. consumers were not slowed by surging coronavirus cases in November when more than 30 states saw sustained increases in infections and hospitalizations climbed in areas of the country. The retail sales data does not reflect how shoppers reacted to the emergence of the omicron variant, which started to make headlines during the Thanksgiving weekend.