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Holiday sales tanked, trucking data shows e-commerce wasn’t the issue

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Qilai Shen | Corbis News | Getty Images

The market did not like what it saw from the final retail holiday sales numbers for 2022 which sets up a tough year for retailers, but e-commerce is continuing to boom, including in areas outside the core retail consumer.

Trucking data shared by DHL with CNBC shows that while the core consumer market has pulled back, in many categories e-commerce sales remain strong.

“E-commerce is continuing to boom,” said Jim Monkmeyer, president of transportation for DHL Supply Chain, North America.

DHL described large growth in e-commerce and the logistics company is investing heavily in that segment.

“I would say the other spaces that are still growing fairly rapidly for us are automotive and high engineering, manufacturing as well as high-end consumer goods and spirits. Food products and life sciences areas are also doing well,” Monkmeyer said.

Amid weak holiday sales year over year, it was online and nonstore sales that saw the biggest year-over-year gains, jumping 9.5% during the holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation data released on Wednesday.

But Monkmeyer said DHL is seeing a continued downturn of the core retail consumer, with the near-record inventories a stark reminder of the pullback. As a result, more retailers are slashing prices to get rid of their inventory.

In December, Scott Sureddin, CEO of DHL Supply Chain, told CNBC he anticipated more discounts post-holiday. “I have never seen inventory levels like this and after the first of the year, retailers can’t continue to sit on this inventory so the discounts they’ve been pushing will have to continue,” he said.

Inflation is one of the reasons behind frugal consumer holiday spending.

Retail sales data released on Wednesday showed a decline of 1.1% in December, slightly more than the 1% forecast, reflecting tepid consumer demand during the holiday shopping season.

The holiday sales period was facing difficult annual comparisons given the Covid boom, and Monkmeyer is confident there will be a turnaround as supply chain inflationary pressures, such as freight rates, fall back below pandemic peak levels. Recent inflation readings, both the Consumer Price Index and Producer Price Index, have provided confirmation of inflation easing.

“I think we’ll see the turning point come sometime in mid to late second quarter,” he said. “The cost of the ocean containers moving from $20,000 a container to $3,000 will drive down costs to a lot of different products. And on top of that, you have fuel costs coming down, and they’re projected to continue to go down slowly but steadily for the rest of this year. I think consumers will notice that right away and we will hopefully get back to some of that spending that we were seeing in the last two years.”

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