The Numbers Are In: Holiday Retail Performance Recap
February 7, 2023
Retailers were hustling to drive sales this holiday season. The New York Times reported merchants weren’t only competing against each other, but against the clock as Americans continued to be buoyed by savings from the “pandemic era” (the Fed estimates about $1.7 trillion in extra savings) and a still-hot labor market, but were - and are - facing quickly-rising prices and increasing costs of borrowing.

The central bank’s rates went from near-zero to above 4.25% in 2022, with predictions of additional rises to and a prolonged stay at around 5% in 2023. These signals cause widespread concern about recession.

With all that in mind, retailers were bombarding consumers with discounts and deals in hopes of winning the season before a potential downturn. So, how did the holiday season go in retail?

Online spending came in at $211.7 billion this holiday season - 3.5% growth over last year, with revenue spiking on Cyber Monday, according to Adobe Analytics. Total US retail sales (in-store and online) grew by 7.6% from last year, according to MasterCard. Note that there is some conflict in the data between sources, due in part to different dates defining the holiday season for different analytics. For example, Adobe includes October 1 - December 31 shopping and MasterCard considers only November 1 - December 24.

What drove traffic?

Paid search was responsible for a massive amount of online sales: 29%. Direct web visits came in at 19%, organic search at 17%, affiliates/partners at 16%, and email at 15%. Partnership efforts abounded in both brick-and-mortar and online environments: Macy’s launched a partnership with Kylie Cosmetics, Target announced a partnership with FAO Schwartz and increased the presence of the existing Apple partnership.

Where were discounts steepest?

Toys boasted the highest discount rate at 34% (drastically higher than 2021’s 19% average). Electronics were also steeply discounted at 25% (versus 2021’s 8%), as were computers at 20% (versus 2021’s 10%) and apparel at 19% (versus 2021’s 13%).

What categories did well?

Those discounts on toys paid off for retailers. Toys led online sales in growth over pre-holiday shopping. Apparel and video games also saw strong holiday numbers. Toy sales grew by 206% over pre-holiday levels, apparel by 94%, and video games by 115%.

Where were people shopping in person?

The holiday season remains (indoor) mall season; mall visits were up 40.3% month over month in December.

What do we not yet know?

The biggest remaining question regarding 2022 holiday retail performance will remain for a bit longer: returns. The effects of those return experiences will likely echo through 2023 and beyond, with rapidly shifting policies impacting forward-looking customer loyalty. Some retailers, like H&M and JCPenney have tightened the reins while others have moved to decrease friction in the returns process.

Lauren Lyddon has helped people and organizations to tell their stories for more than a decade. Having tested her love of the creative through the pursuit of an MBA and undergraduate business degrees, she is a writer, editor, and lover of fiction in all its forms (especially theatre, well-written television, and novels). A West coast resident often operating on an East coast schedule, Lauren uses her business background and love of story to serve clients in writing, editing, PR, and more. You can visit her online at



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