Mastercard Forecast: B-t-s Retail Sales Rising 5.5 Percent

For the upcoming back-to-school season, Mastercard sees retail scoring pretty high grades.

Mastercard Spending Pulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment, is forecasting that 2021 b-t-s sales at U.S. retailers will rise 5.5 percent compared to the 2020 season, and 6.7 percent compared to the 2019 season.

Mastercard defines the b-t-s season as the July 15 to Sept. 6 period, and does not include automotive and gas sales in its figures.

With much of retail on a roll and reporting solid gains during the first quarter, it’s a good bet that the b-t-s season will be robust as schools reopen for classroom learning and people continue to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Mastercard indicated that May marked the eighth consecutive month of total retail sales growth. According to Mastercard SpendingPulse, U.S. retail sales excluding automotive and gasoline increased 12.2 percent year-over-year in May, and 10.2 percent compared to May 2019. Online sales in May grew 1.1 percent and 94.8 percent over the same month two years.

On Wednesday, the National Retail Federation dramatically raised its forecast for retail sales for all of 2021 to increase between 10.5 and 13.5 percent to more than $4.44 trillion, signaling confidence in the nation’s economic recovery and life continuing to normalize after 18 months of the pandemic. In February, the NRF predicted U.S. retail sales would grow 6.5 to 8.2 percent. The NRF stuck to its original forecast that online sales are expected to grow between 18 and 23 percent this year, to a range of $1.09 trillion to $1.13 trillion.

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“Back-to-school has always been a prime season for retailers. This year, the broader reopening brings an exciting wave of optimism as children prepare for another school year, and the grown-ups in their lives approach a similar ‘return to office’ scenario,” said Steve Sadove, senior adviser for Mastercard and former chief executive officer and chairman of Saks Fifth Avenue. “This back-to-school season will be defined by choice as online sales remain robust, brick-and-mortar browsing regains momentum and strong promotions help retailers compete for shoppers’ wallets.”

Mastercard predicts that b-t-s apparel sales will rise 78.2 percent over last year, when schools across much of the country were closed due to COVID-19 and students were forced to learn online at home, and 11.3 percent over the 2019 season, which was months before the pandemic hit. Mastercard cited an “apparel refresh” for b-t-s, stating, “While athleisure was the fashion statement of 2020, this year brings the diversification of the wardrobe as in-person schooling, reunions and other events drive consumers to make their social debuts in style.”

Sales of electronics during the b-t-s season are seen rising 13 percent from last year and 9.6 percent over two years ago.

Department stores, which have generally been seeing traffic creeping back this year, are forecast to see a 25.3 percent gain in b-t-s sales from last year and a 9.5 percent sales gain over the 2019 season. “Department stores, outdoor shopping centers and malls offer a fresh change of scenery for shoppers. Buy online, pick up in store as well as technologies such as contactless will remain important as consumers continue to seek low-contact experiences,” Mastercard stated in its report.

E-commerce, which hit record highs last year due to the pandemic and the forced stay-at-home lifestyle, is forecast by Mastercard as being down 6.6 percent during the b-t-s season, and 53.2 percent above the 2019 level.

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