Retail trade group sees holiday sales rising 3.6% to 4% this year

Retailers could see a bump in sales this holiday season.

Holiday retail sales in November and December — excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants — are expected to increase as much as 4 percent this year, reaching up to $682 billion, according to the National Retail Federation, the industry’s trade group. In 2016, sales were $655.8 billion.

Popular purchases this year are expected to be Apple’s newest devices, video games and appliances, Jack Kleinhenz, NRF’s chief economist, said on a call Tuesday with the media.

“Although this year hasn’t been perfect, especially with the recent devastating hurricanes, we believe that a longer shopping season and strong consumer confidence will deliver retailers a strong holiday season,” NRF Chief Executive Matthew Shay said in prepared remarks.

“Our forecast reflects the very realistic steady momentum of the economy and overall strength of the industry,” Shay added.

This year’s forecast by NRF would either meet or exceed last year’s growth of 3.6 percent, and a five-year average of 3.5 percent.

Should NRF’s forecast hold, retailers will post another year of steady growth. The last drop was in 2008, at the onset of the Great Recession, when retail sales tumbled 4.6 percent.

Source: National Retail Federation

Notably, Christmas this year will fall 32 days after Thanksgiving, giving shoppers one more day to ring up purchases than in 2016. Christmas also lands on a Monday in 2017, instead of a Sunday, giving consumers one more full weekend to pick up gifts.

Retailers are also looking to hire fewer seasonal workers overall this year, as some sales shift online, NRF has found.

The group has forecast retailers will hire between 500,000 and 550,000 temporary workers this holiday season, down from last year’s 575,000 workers.

Nonstore sales, which include online sales and those from kiosks, are expected to rise 11 to 15 percent, to roughly $140 billion, NRF said. In 2016, those sales climbed 12.6 percent.

On a media conference call, NRF’s Shay quoted Wal-Mart’s head of U.S. e-commerce, Marc Lore, when saying, “Online retail is simply intended to make us better merchants.” The best retailers, Shay explained, are those that “bridge the gap to meet consumers where they are” — online and off.

Conversations around retail lately have centered too much around the idea of e-commerce sales stealing from brick-and-mortar’s business, but that’s not the case, according to Shay. “Online is just another channel,” he emphasized.

When Sears came into the market decades ago, retail changed, and then when Wal-Mart came into the market, retail changed, Shay added. “Now we have some new disruptors.”

NRF’s forecast follows those from Deloitte and AlixPartners, which call for holiday retail sales increasing between 3.8 and 4.5 percent, thanks to higher online spending and a tightening labor market.

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