Strong promotions on holiday gifts helped a variety of retail categories draw in savvy shoppers as the 2011 holiday shopping season started strong. According to the National Retail Federation, November retail industry sales (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) rose 0.09 percent from October and 4.5 percent over last year.

“Though consumers remain concerned about the economy, they are demonstrating an increased willingness to spend this holiday season, not only on gifts but also on small luxuries for themselves,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “While companies are encouraged by a strong start to the holiday season, the real test will come in December when the majority of holiday spending occurs. Retailers have been working all year to make sure that the last two weeks before Christmas deliver the promotions and value that today’s shoppers expect.”

November retail sales released today by the U.S. Commerce Department show total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants) increased 0.2 percent from October, and 6.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

The National Retail Federation continues to forecast holiday sales growth of 2.8 percent, which was announced in early October. In light of stronger-than-expected November and previous months’ sales, NRF will reevaluate its forecast this week.
“Retailers know that the best way to entice shoppers this holiday season would be through strong promotions, as consumers remain very discount-driven on larger discretionary purchases,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. “Moderate retail sales increases every month have significantly contributed to America’s economic recovery and, while growth is slow, retailers realize that moderate, sustainable gains will put their business and consumers in the best long-term position.”

NRF estimates that 226 million shoppers visited retail stores and websites Black Friday weekend, spending a record $52 billion Thanksgiving Day through the following Sunday. 

Additional highlights of the November retail sales data include:

• Strong holiday promotions on popular electronics in November helped boost electronics and appliance stores’ sales 2.1 percent seasonally adjusted month-over-month and 6.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
• Clothing and clothing accessory stores’ sales increased 0.5 percent adjusted month-to-month and 3.7 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
• Due partially to unseasonably warm weather in parts of the county in November, consumers cut back on purchases of traditional winter supplies and garden materials. Sales at building material and garden equipment stores decreased 0.3 percent seasonally adjusted from October, but increased 6.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
• Sales at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores increased 0.3 percent seasonally adjusted over last month and 7.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

As the world’s largest retail trade association and the voice of retail worldwide, NRF represents retailers of all types and sizes, including chain restaurants and industry partners, from the United States and more than 45 countries abroad. Retailers operate more than 3.6 million U.S. establishments that support one in four U.S. jobs – 42 million working Americans. Contributing $2.5 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy. NRF’s Retail Means Jobs campaign emphasizes the economic importance of retail and encourages policymakers to support a Jobs, Innovation and Consumer Value Agenda aimed at boosting economic growth and job creation. For more, go to