The National Retail Federation said Thursday it expects holiday retail sales to increase between 3.8 percent and 4.2 percent compared with last year.
Consumer spending in November and December is expected to total between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion, excluding sales of automobiles, gas and at restaurants.
Online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total, are forecast to increase between 11 and 14 percent to as much as $166.9 billion. This would be a substantial increase from $146.5 billion last year.
It’s a somewhat-bullish forecast the NRF backs up by pointing to an economy that is strong overall, though it recognizes that there are several factors that could still dampen the holiday season.
NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a conference call Thursday morning the third October that the fundamentals underlying the economy are positive—low unemployment, growing wages and strong consumer confidence—and will provide momentum in the fourth quarter.
He also noted retail sales have been “very positive” this year, with the three-month moving average up 4.1 percent as of August, and sales the first eight months of the year up 3.6 percent.
The categories expected to do well this holiday season are those that historically do so: apparel, electronics, toys, and gift cards.
“The U.S. economy is continuing to grow, and consumer spending is still the primary engine behind that growth,” Shay said.
“Nonetheless, there has clearly been a slowdown brought on by considerable uncertainty around issues including trade, interest rates, global risk factors and political rhetoric.”
He added the strong consumer confidence they’ve seen could be “eroded” by those issues.
Tariffs are one of the biggest question marks heading into the holiday season, and their effect on spending, whether direct through prices or through consumer confidence, remains to be seen, the NRF said.
Some merchandise, including jewelry, apparel, footwear and televisions, was subject to new tariffs that took effect Sept. 1, while other products were spared tariffs until Dec. 15.
Retailers are adopting myriad approaches to tackle the issue, and Shay said that while there isn’t one solution they’re finding, they all want to avoid passing costs on to consumers if they can.
“The vast majority of them still see running room and growth opportunity in this economy, and none want to jeopardize that and all are hoping that we’re going to find a constructive way to address these issues and resolve our trade disputes and move forward.”