Coming off a weak back-to-school shopping period, a research firm expects sales growth will be slower this year during the crucial holiday season. Shoppers are also expected to visit fewer stores as they research purchases online.
Retail revenue in November and December should rise 2.4 percent during the biggest shopping period of the year, Chicago-based research firm ShopperTrak said Tuesday. That compares with a 3 percent increase in 2012 from 2011.
"Although the economy continues to recover slowly, consumers remain cautious about spending and are not ready to splurge," said ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin.
While the job picture has been improving in the United States and the turnaround in the housing market is gaining traction, the improvements have not been enough to sustain higher levels of spending for most Americans. Most continue to juggle tepid wage gains with a higher cost of living.
Revenue at stores opened at least a year -- a measure of a retailer's health-- rose 3.6 percent in August, according to a tally of 10 retailers by the International Council of Shopping Centers. That's up a tad from July's 3.5 percent gain, but below the 6 percent gain in August last year. The cautious spending last month capped a weak back-to-school selling season for retailers and raised questions about whether Americans would spend in November and December, a time retailers can make up to 40 percent of their revenue for the year.
ShopperTrak expects traffic will fall 1.4 percent during November and December, compared with a 2.5 percent increase in 2012. That's partly due to people researching purchases more diligently before they go out shopping, Martin says.
"They're still purchasing the same amount and product they intended to, they're just not roaming from store to store looking for it," he said.
In addition, there's a shorter shopping window between Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving, which is usually the biggest shopping day of the year -- and Christmas. Last year there were 32 days during the period and this year there are 25. Weekends are the busiest shopping period within that time frame. There are four weekends this year compared with five last year.