Retailers are dreaming of a green Christmas, confident that blockbuster growth this holiday shopping season will put the debacle of the 2018 holidays behind them.
Last year, with the economy buffeted by a government shutdown, market volatility and concerns over trade, holiday retail sales rose by a paltry 2.1%.
But while trade concerns still loom, other signs are more positive. The National Retail Federation estimated in October that the period from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31 will rack up sales of between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion — a rise of 3.8% to 4.2% — with consumers expected to spend an average $1,047.83 on purchases.
Now, as millions are participating in a holiday shopping frenzy even ahead of Thanksgiving, it turns out that this bright forecast may not have been optimistic enough, according to Jack Kleinhenz, NRF’s chief economist.
According to the latest NRF figures, more than half of Americans have already started holiday shopping or plan to do so before Black Friday. Some 165 million shoppers are expected to buy over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
“Based on what we’ve seen from September and October, the holiday retail sales increase will probably be at the upper end of our earlier forecast or better,” Kleinhenz said. The result, he added, will be seasonal growth at more than twice the 2018 rate and well in excess of the 3.7% average growth rate recorded by the NRF. “Certainly in the past year we can point to the addition of jobs. The conditions are very positive,” he noted.
Optimism is high locally, too. “As usual, we’re excited about the holidays,” said Jennifer Mankins, who started her Bird fashion boutiques — four stores in Brooklyn and one in Los Angeles — when she quit her job as a retail buyer and opened up shop in Park Slope 20 years ago.
“We’re not like some businesses you read about where the holidays are 50% of the business,” she said. “December is our busiest month of the year, but it’s not our whole business.”
She said her stores are augmenting their lines of indie designer offerings with gift items like jewelry and washable cashmere sweaters and scarfs and holding special events like trunk shows. She also expects to get a boost from longstanding community ties.
“Husbands often come in here to buy Christmas presents for their wives, knowing that we already know what they like since they’re customers,” she said.
According to Mankins, who said she is seeing “hopeful signs” along with the NRF of a blockbuster retail season, there are still risks on the horizon — especially when it comes to trade with China. Many retailers are stepping up shipments from that country in an attempt to head off further US tariff increases set to go into effect Dec. 15.
“We’re seeing a trickle-up effect in terms of pricing, and we’re just starting to see a little bit of an impact [from the tariffs], with pricing increasing and production time increasing,” she said. So far, she said, the price increases she has had to pass on have been “minimal.”