1. News
  2. /
  3. Business

Despite pandemic, holiday sales grew at least 3 percent this year

While furniture, home decor and online sales boomed this Christmas, apparel and department store sales dropped.
A woman walks past with shopping bags, at The Merchant, downtown on Central  Avenue, on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020 in St. Petersburg.
A woman walks past with shopping bags, at The Merchant, downtown on Central Avenue, on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Dec. 30, 2020

Holiday sales may have grown overall this year, but the clothing and department store sales came up short during a year shoppers largely stayed home and shopped online.

Holiday retail sales grew 3 percent compared to last year but apparel sales dropped by 19 percent, according to a study by Mastercard SpendingPulse. Online sales grew by a whopping 49 percent. While the big chains and department stores won’t reveal how holidays sales fared until upcoming quarterly reports with investors, some of Tampa Bay’s smaller businesses are taking stock as an unpredictable 2020 draws to a close.

“When people think shopping online, they think about the big guys like Amazon,” said said Sara Stonecipher, the owner of St. Petersburg clothing boutique Misred.

Between COVID-19 and already shifting shopper trends, big retailers started pushing sales in October weeks ahead of Black Friday. Mastercard’s study looked at retail purchase, exempting gas and car sales, from October 11 to Dec. 24.

“American consumers turned the holiday season on its head, redefining ‘home for the holidays’ in a uniquely 2020 way,” Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard, said in a statement. “They shopped from home for the home, leading to record e-commerce growth. And, consumers shopped earlier than ever before.”

But that sort of online success didn’t translate the same for Stonecipher’s local clothing store. Even with a strong presence on Instagram and a sleek website, Stonecipher said only about 5 percent of her sales happen online. In-person shopping picked up the closer it got to Christmas.

Related: It’s not just Black Friday that will be different because of COVID-19

“We were way down in November,” Stonecipher said. “We honestly didn’t see traffic start to appear until a week into December, then everybody came out at the same time.”

The holidays still brought a much needed boost for Stonecipher’s shop, which, like other retailers that don’t sell food, had to close during the onset of the pandemic. She said those who came through for holiday shopping made a point to shop local to support community businesses through the pandemic.

For large-scale traditional retailers, like mall department stores, sales slumped about 10 percent overall, according to the Mastercard study. Their online sales, however, grew 3.3 percent.

Home furnishings and decor, which have been performing well since the pandemic began, continued to lead during holiday shopping, up about 16 percent compared to last year. Shoppers continue to want to improve their homes, while they spend more time than ever in them avoiding crowds to lessen the spread of the virus.

For new local business Leafy Luv Affair, shoppers’ new attention on their homes has helped the store start off strong. Whitney and Matt Jackson just opened their plant store in Hyde Park Village Thanksgiving weekend.

Related: Not all of Tampa Bay’s Black Friday shoppers are stopping for the pandemic

“Tampa has become such an urban hub with condos and high raises,” said Whitney Jackson. “People don’t have access to their own landscaping but appreciate an urban jungle.”

The new plant seller said the plant market has performed well during the pandemic because houseplants are not only a hobby, but a way to improve your environment.

The National Retail Federation, a retail trade group, projected a 3.6 percent to 5.2 percent spike in holiday sales totaling more than $755 billion compared to last year.

“Many Florida retailers went above and beyond, offering a multitude of options to ensure they were safe and comfortable while shopping this holiday season,” said Scott Shalley, the president and CEO of the federation’s Florida chapter. “We are grateful for the support from consumers during this important shopping season and difficult year, but there are still many challenges ahead.”

Stonecipher said while she is thankful for the holiday boost, shoppers need to keep returning to local businesses before next Christmas if they want them to stay open through 2021.