Retail Holiday Sales

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Retail Holiday Sales

While it is difficult to discern the trends between online versus in-store holiday purchase trends for individual department store, it does appear that there is an overall retail trend moving away from at least traditional department stores. The success they have, depends on how they deal with their changing environment.


  • Walmart has not released sales figures to indicate performance over the 2019 holiday season. Results for this period should be available on February 18, 2020, when it releases its fourth quarter and full year fiscal 2020 earnings results.
  • Walmart's sales did increase by 4.2% for the fourteen weeks ended January 25, 2019, over comparable sales the previous year. This included a 43% increase in e-commerce sales. Walmart expected this increase in digital sales to decrease to 35%.
  • The fourth quarter ending January 31, 2019 (which includes the holiday season) saw sales increase to $138.8 billion from $136.3 billion a year earlier.
  • Without any news of its holiday sales, Walmart shares dropped 1.8%.on news of Target's disappointing holiday sales.
  • Even with numbers for the 2019 holiday season, Walmart might not be the best gauge of holiday performance of department stores as 56% of its sales come from groceries.


  • Target's November-December 2019 sales increased 1.4% compared to the same period a year earlier, much lower than the 5.7% increase during the 2018 holiday season. The company initially projected sales growth of 3% to 4% during the 2019 holiday season.
  • Sales made online did rise over 50%. This includes online orders made for in-store pick-up and same-day delivery.
  • Sales results for the quarter containing the 2019 holiday period should be available on March 3, 2020, when it releases its fourth quarter and full year earnings results.


  • Walgreens' fiscal year ends August 31.
  • The company does not report sales performance for the holiday season, though it does note that the second fiscal quarter (which includes December) is typically the strongest quarter each year.
  • The second quarter of fiscal 2019 saw an increase of 4.6% to $34.5 billion.
  • Walgreens does not break out brick & mortar sales versus online.


  • Costco reported net sales of $17.0 billion for the retail month of December 2019, an increase of 10.5% from $15.4 billion the previous year.
  • E-commerce sales over five weeks and eighteen weeks ended January 5, 2020, increased 43.1% and 17.1%, respectively.
  • Costco also reported net sales of $13.6 billion for the retail month of November 2019, an increase of 6.7% from $12.8 billion the previous year.
  • E-commerce sales over four weeks ended December 1, 2019, decreased 3.6%.
  • In 2019, e-commerce accounted for 5-6% of Costco's sales.
  • U.S. sales for the twelve weeks ending February 17, 2019, amounted to $25.9 billion.

Best Buy

  • Fiscal year 2019 ends February 2, 2019.
  • Results from the fourth quarter of 2020 (which includes the 2019 holiday season) have not yet been released. These results should be expected by the end of February 2020.
  • "Our business, like that of many retailers, is seasonal. A large proportion of our revenue and earnings is generated in the fiscal fourth quarter, which includes the majority of the holiday shopping season in the U.S., Canada and Mexico."
  • Domestic online revenue was $6.5 billion in fiscal 2019, 16.6% of total U.S. revenue ($39.3 billion).
  • Domestic online revenue was $6.0 billion in fiscal 2018, 15.5% of total U.S. revenue ($38.7 billion).

Home Depot

  • Note that Home Depot refers to the fiscal year ended February 3, 2019, as fiscal 2018
  • Home Depot does not generally file its Form 10-K with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) until late-March. Only then could one compare fourth quarter sales to the previous year's period.+
  • Even with appropriate sales data, any inference from Home Depot's sales during the holiday season should be made carefully as its sales are susceptible to any housing/construction disruptions in the market.
  • "While our stores remain the hub of our business, our data tells us that many of our in-store sales are influenced by an online visit and nearly 50 percent of all online U.S. orders are picked up inside our stores."


  • Same-store sales fell 0.6% at Macy's owned and licensed stores during November and December 2019, compared to a year earlier. At owned stores, same-store sales fell 0.7% during that period.
  • November-December comparable sales from 2017 to 2018 increased 1.1%.
  • For the fourth quarter, which includes the holiday season, analysts had been calling for a 1.75% decline in same-store sales, according to a poll by Refinitiv.
  • Other analysts predicted Macy's sales to fall by 3.0% in the fourth quarter.
  • Macy’s, Inc. is scheduled to report fourth quarter sales and earnings on February 25, 2020. Additional detail on financial performance will be provided at that time.


  • Kohls reported a sales decline of 0.2% in November and December 2019, compared to the same period in 2018.
  • Additional information will be available when Kohls releases its Form 10-K in March 2020.


  • JCPenny reported that comparable store sales for the nine weeks ending January 4, 2020, fell by 7.5%.
  • Additional detail will be available in February 27, 2020, with the release of the latest annual and fourth quarter results.

Insights into Lower-Than-Expected 2019 Holiday Sales

  • It appears that any downturn in retail sales figures during the 2019 holiday season was not universal. The National Retail Federation (NRF) initially forecast that sales would grow between 3.8% and 4.2% during the holiday season. Retail sales actually increased by 4.1%, according tho the NRF, at the high end of expectations. Online sales actually topped its expectations, growing at 14.6%. So, while major department store chains were reporting same-store decline in sales, smaller specialty retailers like Lululemon and Signet Jewelers found success.
  • Amazon reportedly had a record season as well, though it has yet to release sales figures, further muddying the overall story of the holiday season. One reason the major department stores mostly see a decline is that the trend towards online growth does not have a profound effect on their sales as their online sales are still a very small piece of their overall sales. Of the department chains above, Walmart has the most significant online presence, and it's results are unavailable at this date.
  • One factor that may affect some more than others is trade uncertainty due to President Trump's seemingly never ending trade war with China and others.
  • One interesting theory to explain decreased demand for holiday shopping is that the weather is responsible. “Weather has a significant impact on our emotions and the way we feel which translates into retail sales. When it gets cold, it flips the switch into thinking about holiday shopping. When it is 90 degrees in Atlanta in October, it doesn’t feel like its time to start buying things for winter.”
  • Due to the late Thanksgiving in 2019, there are effectively six less shopping days than usual. This may cut back on impulse buys at department stores but make little difference with online purchases.

Research Strategy

We looked at each companies website and looked at their press releases and SEC filings. In some case we went straight to the SEC website to search filings. We also researched articles written on the subject. While we were able to get some numbers, there was no way to triangulate online versus in-store sales in any way that would be useful. In cases where we know the proportion of overall sales that are online, these are annual and not specific to the holiday period. Still, in the next month, a number of these companies will be releasing results that cover the holiday period. Though the picture will still be far from complete.

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