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US online holiday shopping soared, but in-store still unknown

Chicago

WHILE the US government shutdown is keeping investors in the dark about broader retail trends over the holidays, Adobe Analytics confirmed that online sales posted rapid growth during the period.

E-commerce sales jumped 16.5 per cent from a year earlier to a total of US$126 billion as consumers loaded up on products such as the Nintendo Switch, laptops, streaming devices and Fingerlings dolls, according to Adobe.

The company measured online transactions from 80 top US retailers to compile the report.

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The data backs up what preliminary reports have been suggesting: Americans opened their wallets at the end of 2018 amid low unemployment and high consumer confidence.

But with the federal shutdown delaying the release of US retail sales, for now the market only has a partial view of the picture.

On the e-commerce side of the equation, smartphones' importance continued to rise, Adobe said, driving half of the traffic for the first time and nearly a third of revenue.

In-store pickup for online orders also surged by 50 per cent.

Sales remained brisk after the Black Friday weekend before tapering off on Dec 17, according to the report.

This reinforces the narrative that consumers had largely finished their shopping before the end of the year: Macy's Inc saw its shares plummet last week after disclosing that momentum slowed in December after a strong Black Friday.

Mark Mathews, vice-president of research development and industry analysis for the National Retail Federation (NRF), said on Tuesday that overall holiday sales growth will be "well within" the retail trade group's forecast of 4.3 per cent to 4.8 per cent.

He based that on US wage gains, continued low unemployment and strong consumer confidence.

However, challenges such as trade tensions and the shutdown remain on the horizon, he said.

"The consumer is in a super strong position," Mr Mathews said during an NRF event in New York. "But that's not to say there aren't headwinds ahead." BLOOMBERG