The DataHero Blog

Visualizing The Data Behind Holiday Spending

December 19th, 2013


The United States collects data on spending by sector and makes it pretty accessible. I compiled a dataset of some of the more prominent sectors for holiday spending, and dug in to see what trends I could find. We all know the holidays account for an uptick in consumer spending, but I didn’t realize just how much until I took a look at the visualizations. Department stores, discount department stores, gift stores, toy stores, jewelry stores, plus men and women’s clothing stores are included in this dataset, as these see the largest increase during the holiday season.

Below is a chart representing yearly revenue from 1992-2012 by sector, however it is not adjusted for inflation so keep that in mind when investigating the graphs. Some large trends that jump out are the overall increase between 1992-2000, then a drop in 2001 when the internet bubble burst. This decrease continues until 2004. Between 2004 and 2007 we see an increase in spending until the recession, where we see a drop in again. The good news is, spending has been trending upward since 2008.

 DataHero Revenue by Sector and Year (1)

Certain sectors were more heavily impacted by these upward or downward trends than others. For example, in the graph below you can see that Department Stores and Discount Department Stores take a hit during times of economic hardship, specifically 2002, 2003, then again in 2008 and 2009.

 DataHero Change in Revenue by Industry and Year (1)


On a monthly level, how holiday spending contributes to overall retail revenue becomes much more apparent in a graph of the sum of revenue between 1992 and 2012:

 DataHero Revenue by Sector by Month of Year (1)

We can see how much each sector is impacted by holidays sales by looking at a rate of change graph that reflects the percentage increase in sales for each industry by quarter. Toys see the highest percentage increase in sales, followed by jewelry stores and gift/novelty stores.

 DataHero Percentage Change in Revenue by Quarter of Year

When I first started investigating this dataset, I had the hypothesis that in 2001 and 2008 due to economic hardship, discount department stores would cannibalize some of the revenue from higher end department stores. I assumed consumers would substitute department stores with a cheaper alternative in discount department stores. What we see instead is depicted in the graph below. It doesn’t appear that consumers changed their spending habits drastically enough so as to change where they shop, they simply spent less where they had shopped before, both in 2001 and 2008.

DataHero Discount vs. Department Store Revenue by Year


Alcohol consumption also sees a generous uptick in December, thanks to Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years all in the same month.

 DataHero Liquor Sales by Month of the Year

What I found even more interesting though was that liquor sales not only increase throughout the year, but they’ve been increasing steadily since 1992. Please keep in mind though, this dataset is not adjusted for inflation. Still, are Americans drinking more booze or simply buying more expensive booze? Is there a certain alcohol that is contributing to this upward trend more than others? For example, craft beer is more expensive than more widely distributed beers and there has been an increase in consumption of craft beer. That would require much more investigation and is outside the scope of a holiday spending post, but an interesting insight none the less.

 DataHero Liquor Store Sales by Year

The holiday shopping season is nearly over for 2013 so stay tuned for updated stats on the revenue for 2013.


To try for yourself, sign up for a FREE DataHero account and import the data


Once you’ve signed up you can download the dataset here and then import it into DataHero.




By Kelli Simpson

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