Uncle Sam Would Be Proud: Patriotic Consumers Seen Posting Record July Fourth Sales

July Fourth table setting

Even before COVID-19 upended nearly every holiday tradition, total spending on Independence Day had been falling, as had the percentage of people celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

But this year, sales are soaring: the National Retail Federation (NRF) projects a total of $7.52 billion spent on the holiday this year — up nearly $1 billion from both last year and the year before. The average spending per person is expected to be $80.54, a new record and over $7 more than in 2019.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand,” said Katherine Cullen, senior director of industry and consumer insights for the NRF. “People have been living in lockdown or under restrictions for over a year in many cases, and there’s a lot of excitement and kind of getting back out there and embracing quote-unquote normal activities or celebrations.”

And as much as everyone loves a July Fourth barbecue, it’s not just food that people are splurging on. An increased number of people are buying patriotic items, whether it’s apparel, decorations, or other red, white and blue merchandise. Nearly 30 percent of those celebrating Independence Day said they plan to purchase additional patriotic items, almost double the percentage who responded similarly in 2010 and up 3 percent versus last year.

Cullen told PYMNTS that the seeming increased level of patriotism may be the result of a decorating frenzy that began during the pandemic. As holiday celebrations were forced to downsize last year, retailers saw consumers increasing the number of decorations they were buying in order to channel their enthusiasm into public displays from their homes.

Even now, Cullen said the NRF is expecting more consumer attention on decorations than before the pandemic.

“I think it’s been a way for people, a diversion in a sense, for people who still may not feel comfortable going to large gatherings or may be unsure about attending a parade or aren’t ready to travel just yet,” she said. “Decorations are a way to kind of get in the spirit of a holiday even if they’re not doing some of the more traditional stuff.”

Impact Of Summer Sales

Some experts worried that an early Prime Day and the flood of competing sales would temper enthusiasm for events later in the summer. But despite Independence Day’s close proximity to the multiday summer sales, Cullen said she didn’t see a big focus on July Fourth from retailers or consumers on Prime Day.

“It’s possible people picked up barbecues or other things in preparation for a Fourth of July gathering,” she told PYMNTS. “But I did not see a lot of focus on specific Fourth of July inventory.”

Cullen added that she did see some emphasis on Independence Day apparel, “but nothing that said it was sort of a big focus during that time.”

Indeed, analyses show that consumers were more focused on general apparel, electronics and beauty products between June 20 and 22. Amazon said its top-selling products on Prime Day included vacuums, coffeemakers, streaming media players and personal care items. Retail analytics firm Numerator similarly found that consumer electronics and health and beauty products were the top-purchased categories.

That’s not to say, though, that back-to-school sales in the coming weeks won’t see an impact from the early summer sales. Amazon also noted that consumers purchased 1 million laptops, 1 million headphones, 600,000 backpacks and 40,000 calculators during Prime Day — all items that now won’t be bought at the end of July and beginning of August.

Exciting Times Ahead

The increase in Independence Day expenditures follows several months of heightened spending for celebrations, including record results for both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Splurging around the Fourth of July, Cullen said, is a sign that the momentum is likely not slowing down.

“Consumers have a lot of pent-up demand, they have a lot of excitement, they’re starting to plan things like vacations and gatherings that are spurring their spend,” she said. “And their confidence is starting to come back.”

This plays into the NRF’s overall forecast for the year, which it recently revised as economic uncertainty has given way to a clearer picture for retail. In February, the trade group had projected a 6.5 percent increase in retail sales this year, but last month, the NRF said sales are likely to grow between 10.5 percent and 13.5 percent, totaling over $4.44 trillion.