By Nathalie Voit

Retail sales during the 2021 November-December holiday season grew by their fastest in years, surging by 14.1% over 2020 to a record $886.7 billion, the National Retail Federation (NRF) said Jan. 14.

Last season’s spending was the highest ever, beating the previous records of 8.2% growth in 2020 and $777.3 billion spent that year, NRF said. According to the company, annual holiday sales growth typically averages 4.4%, rendering the 2021 rate nearly 10% higher than the five-year moving average.

End-of-year retail spending easily shattered the company’s 2021 holiday sales forecast, which estimated spending to fall between $843.4 billion and $859 billion and called for a maximum of 11.5% growth that year.

The only metric that met the NRF’s forecast was online sales, which rose 11.3% to settle at $218.9 billion in 2021. The company had predicted between 11 to 15 percent growth that year and between $218.3 billion and $226.2 billion in retail sales for online and other non-store spending.

“We closed out the year with outstanding annual retail sales and a record holiday season, which is a clear testament to the power of the consumer and the ingenuity of retailers and their workers,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

“Despite supply chain problems, rising inflation, labor shortages, and the omicron variant, retailers delivered a positive holiday experience to pandemic-fatigued consumers and their families.”

Gains were broad-based, with increases across every major sector, although spending for clothes, sporting items, and general merchandise goods drove most sales.

Spending on clothing and accessories was up 33.1% year-over-year, while spending in sporting goods stores climbed 20.9% annually. Spending in general merchandise stores came in third, rising by 15.2% in 2021, NRF said. Spending for furniture, electronics, and outdoor and gardening supplies followed closely.

“NRF expects further growth for 2022, and we will continue to focus on industry challenges presented by COVID-19, the supply chain, labor force issues, and persistent inflation. The numbers are clear: 2021 was an undeniably outstanding year for retail sales,” Shay said.