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Forecasts point to modest holiday growth

Retailers just got an early Christmas gift: Americans are expected to spend more than they did last year during the holidays.

Retail sales in November and December are expected to be up 3 percent during what is traditionally the biggest shopping period of the year, the research firm ShopperTrak said Tuesday.

The sales predication, which matches the outlook from the International Council of Shopping Centers on Friday, would be below last year's 4.1 percent spike -- and the 5-plus percent gains during boom economic times. But it's still above the 2.6 percent average gain over the last 10 years and is considered respectable growth given the down economy.

"Clearly, consumers will remain surgical in their spending," said Bill Martin, ShopperTrak, co-founder. "But the Christmas season should still be quite satisfactory."

The industry is still waiting for a widely watched forecast on Oct. 6 from the National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group. But the ShopperTrak and ICSC predictions are the first look at how retailers might fare during the shopping period that can account for up to 40 percent of merchants' annual revenue. Retailers are worried that many Americans are saddled by concerns about their jobs, the stock market and the overall U.S. economy, which could lead them to cut back on holiday shopping.

So far, consumers still are spending on necessities, as shown during the critical back-to-school spending, the second-biggest shopping period of the year. However, they're expected to continue to shop for bargains, a buying habit many picked up during the recession.

Customers also are expected to do more research online before they head to stores -- and browse less when they are in stores. As a result, customer traffic in the store is expected to be down 2.2 percent, according to ShopperTrak, which measures foot traffic in 25,000 stores in the United States and blends those figures with economic data.

"Every shopper in a store will be more valuable than last year, and retail stores should be ready to convert their holiday shoppers into sales," said Martin.

-- AP

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