Retail Group Forecasts 3.7% Rise in Holiday Sales This Year

Holiday Shopping Weekend Sales
Robert F. Bukaty/APTarget customers shop on Black Friday last November in South Portland, Maine.
By Nathan Layne

CHICAGO -- U.S. holiday season sales will increase by 3.7 percent in 2015, marking slightly slower growth than last year as consumers fret about a potential government shutdown and sluggish income growth, the leading retail industry group said Thursday.

The National Retail Federation forecast sales from November to December 2015 at $630.5 billion, excluding autos, gas and restaurant sales. The growth rate would be significantly higher than the 10-year average of 2.5 percent, though slower than the 4.1 percent increase in 2014, the NRF said.

The industry lobby's forecast is a closely watched benchmark for the upcoming holiday season.

NRF President and Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said while some economic indicators have improved, U.S. consumers remained "somewhat torn between their desire and their ability to spend" due to worries about the economy.

"Potential disruptions from yet another government shutdown in mid-December and a slower pace of job creation and income growth are just a few key factors that will impact holiday shoppers' spending this year," Shay said in a release.

The NRF said holiday sales will account for 19 percent of the industry's $3.2 trillion in annual sales. Many retailers earn an outsized portion of their profits during the holiday.

Online sales are expected to increase by 6 to 8 percent during the holiday to as much as $105 billion, the NRF predicted.

NPD's chief industry analyst, Marshal Cohen, has predicted 2.8 to 3.2 percent sales growth, down from 3.5 percent last year, excluding groceries and autos, for November to mid-January. The low end of that forecast would mark the slowest growth since 2009.

Other groups have also forecast slower growth this holiday season, reflecting concerns about the impact of stagnant income growth as well as turmoil in financial markets.

Consulting firm AlixPartners has forecast 2.8 to 3.4 percent growth this holiday season, compared with growth of 4.4 percent in 2014.
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