Total retail sales increased 3.8% last year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Overall revenue during the holiday season jumped 4.1%, and with Cyber Monday falling in December, the last month in 2019 made up for a slow November.

Boosted by Cyber Monday’s record sales falling in December, U.S. nonstore retail sales grew at the highest ever year-over-year rate for the month, according to a Digital Commerce 360 (formerly Internet Retailer) analysis of U.S. Department of Commerce advance monthly figures released Thursday. The late-year surge helped make up for a slow November and close out 2019 with a 13.9% uptick in nonstore spending excluding fuel—the biggest annual growth in nearly two decades.

Nonstore sales—a proxy measure for ecommerce performance—had a huge 24.1% jump in December over the same period in 2018, when sales were flat. Last month’s nonstore performance, excluding estimated fuel sales, was a big bounce back from November’s year-over-year growth, which revised Commerce Department figures measured at 4.9%. November posted the lowest year-over-year growth for any month in 2019, and historically, November’s rate hadn’t registered that low since nonstore sales rose 0.2% in 2013.

This was partially due to a shift in the holiday calendar. On Dec. 2, U.S. shoppers spent a record $9.42 billion online for Cyber Monday, up 19.7% from $7.87 billion on the prior Cyber Monday, according to Adobe Analytics, the data insights arm of software firm Adobe Inc. That marks the largest sales day in the history of U.S. ecommerce. The Sunday of the 5-day shopping period over Thanksgiving weekend–coined Cyber 5–also fell in December. So, an additional $3.83 billion in online sales got bumped into the last month of the year.

That means nearly half of the online revenue generated during the Cyber 5 peak period that usually falls entirely in November instead strengthened December’s retail performance. The Cyber 5 alone accounted for 20.0% of November and December holiday ecommerce sales, Adobe says. The firm bases its numbers on data from more than 1 trillion visits to more than 4,500 retail sites including transactions from 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers ranked in the 2019 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000.

The Commerce Department’s nonstore sales–which are mainly online but include other sales such as orders through call centers, catalogs, door-to-door visits and vending machines–don’t align perfectly with spending captured in the pure ecommerce figures that the agency releases quarterly. But the data is an early indicator of trends in the online sector. Digital Commerce 360 analyzes non-seasonally adjusted Commerce Department data and excludes sales in segments that don’t typically sell online such as restaurants, bars, automobile dealers, gas stations and fuel dealers.

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For the November and December holiday period, nonstore sales climbed 14.8%—the biggest seasonal boost since 1999—to reach $160.22 billion. The season fared far better than the holiday period in 2018, when a government shutdown, stock market volatility and interest rate hikes plagued consumer confidence and led to a disappointing 5.3% growth in nonstore sales, which hit $139.54 billion.

“This was a healthy holiday season,” says Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation. “Despite a late Thanksgiving and worries about tariffs, the consumer didn’t go away.”

Nonstore holiday sales surpassed the NRF’s 11-14% growth projection, but pure ecommerce figures released by other firms point to a more sluggish showing. Adobe measured a 13.1% jump in U.S. online holiday sales, which missed its 14.1% forecast. And software provider Salesforce.com Inc. reported an even weaker 6.0% increase in U.S. online revenue for the season, less than half of its 13.0% projection. The company aggregates data from the activity of more than 500 million holiday shoppers flowing through its Commerce Cloud platform.

For the year, nonstore sales increased by a solid 13.9% year over year, from $655.23 billion in 2018 to $746.24 billion in 2019, the Commerce Department reported. In 2018, growth measured 8.7%.

Total sales rise a moderate 3.8% for the year

The same trends were apparent in Commerce Department data for total spend through all channels, too. The calendar quirk impacted monthly share, and December and holiday growth figures were inflated due to a 2018 slump. Here’s how total retail sales shaped up:

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  • For December: Overall revenue increased 6.5%, up significantly from both 1.4% growth in November 2019 and a small decline of 0.2% in December 2018. This was the highest December year-over-year rate since 6.8% in 2004 and the best showing for any month in 2019.
  • For the holiday period: Tempered by a November slowdown, total retail sales for the season jumped 4.1%, meeting NRF’s projections of 3.8-4.2% growth for the holidays and nearly doubling the 2.1% growth for the same period in 2018. Revenue reached $722.60 billion for November through December last year, up from $694.32 billion in 2018.
  • For 2019: Sales through all channels grew a moderate 3.8% for the year, down from 4.1% in 2018. Total sales hit $3.76 trillion up from $3.63 trillion in 2018.

Advance monthly numbers are preliminary figures that aren’t broken out with the same level of granularity as finalized published sales, so Digital Commerce 360 analyzes historical data to estimate fuel’s share of the nonstore category. More robust data for December’s nonstore and total sales as well as Q4 ecommerce numbers will be released in mid-February.

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