The saviour of sales

Without iPads and Apple gizmos, retail sales wouldn’t look so rosy

After Steve Jobs lost his life to cancer last month, pundits praised him for his genius. He was likened to a savant, a saviour—even the Messiah. Based on the most recent sales numbers from the United States, there may actually be some validity to that extravagant comparison.

American consumers keep snapping up electronics and shopping online, despite living with declining personal savings in a volatile economic clime. In October, U.S. retail sales—which account for more than 70 per cent of economic activity—exceeded analysts’ expectations by climbing 0.5 per cent from September. According to Goldman Sachs, Apple is to thank for this unexpected bump. “The introduction of Apple’s latest iPhone likely accounted for much of the upside surprise in core sales,” the bank said in a statement. The iPhone 4S, Apple’s latest model, was released on Oct. 14. More than four million were sold over its first three days on the shelf. This helped electronics sales in the U.S. jump 3.5 per cent over levels in September.

It isn’t unprecedented for a single company to wield such influence in the American economy. In 1927, the U.S. went into a recession that has been attributed to Henry Ford’s decision to shut down production of the Model T car in order to make upgrades before his company started making its Model A.

Today, Apple’s economic clout is boosted by evolving consumer habits related to the ease and efficiency of online shopping, a development Apple has helped spearhead. E-commerce sales as a share of total retail sales in the U.S. reached 4.6 per cent in the third quarter of this year. That’s the highest level ever. Economic analysis firm IHS Global Insight is predicting e-commerce sales will surpass $50 billion for the first time by the end of the year. In September, 48 per cent of tablet owners in the U.S. bought something using their devices, according to a recent comScore report. It also found that, in August, iPads drove more than 97 per cent of Internet traffic from tablet devices.

Without iPads and Apple gizmos, retail sales wouldn’t look so rosy—who knows, maybe the U.S. economy would be back in a recession again.