Holidays seem to have helped the struggling retail sector.

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Holidays seem to have helped the struggling retail sector.

Americans spend their free holidays making it the best Christmas shopping season in years. As the economy continues to recover, unemployment picks up and consumer confidence rises. The weather and a favorable shopping calendar also boosted retailers’ fortunes.

Robert siegel, host:

We’ve had a lot of reports this year about the bad things about retailers. There was a bunch of shops closed and broke. The question of getting into Christmas is whether the holiday will offer any help. Well, it does seem to be. According to mastercard’s spending report, sales rose 4.9% from a year earlier. Now joining us is NPR’s Uri Berliner. hello

Berlin, wired: hey Robert.

Siegel: what are people in the mood for this holiday season?

BERLINER: so in many ways, stars are in line with retailers during the holidays. You know, consumers are very optimistic. Unemployment is low. Its 4.1%. And the stock market is booming. And you know, it makes people in the market feel richer, so they’re willing to pay more. But – I’m not just talking about rich people who spend more. The benefits are truly comprehensive.

Siegel: so there’s an economic trend. And the weather and the calendar also played a part.

Berlin: yes. The weather is good all over the country. And the calendar is just the perfect place for retailers to decide. There were two shopping days before Christmas this past weekend. Saturday is a very big day for sales.

Siegel: so what are people buying?

Berlin: so, as you would expect, a lot of buying is happening online. Online sales rose more than 18 percent, mastercard said. In the early days of the data, electronics looked particularly good – smart speakers, smartphones and even robotic vacuum cleaners, and furniture and home furnishings. But people also say they don’t just buy presents on paper. They are dealing with people’s experience. So it could be a day trip, a massage, a game or a ticket.

Siegel: now, there’s a new name for the consumer category. This is the so-called gift of self – it doesn’t mean you give yourself away, does it? No, it means you’re giving yourself a gift.

Berlin: that’s right. So the gift has become a verb. Talking to yourself, as you say, is for you. Obviously there are many more holidays. According to a deloitte survey, 50 per cent of people said they would buy a gift for someone else, and they would be themselves shopping.

Siegel: but for all the seasonal news, yuri, this is a bad year for retailers, such as the Payless and Toys R Us companies such as bankruptcy, and other household thousands of stores closed. Isn’t that changing this picture?

Berlin: that depends on the company. So retailers like Lowe, Home Depot and Walmart have actually gone up in recent months. But for others, especially those who sell clothing in stores and those retailers in many places, they are still in a very difficult state. You know, this is a story that has been going on for years — the physical retailer has just been crushed by online sellers, especially amazon. And you know, people don’t go to shopping as a destination as usual. You know, the Internet has changed a lot.

The other thing, then, is that America has a lot of retail space compared with other rich countries. In the 1990s, companies started the borrowing binge and built many stores, and now they are paying the price.

SIEGEL: NPR’s Uri Berlin, thank you.

Berlin: thank you, Robert.

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