CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An increase in retail sales of between 3.6 percent and 5.2 percent compared with 2019 was what the National Retail Federation was forecasting for the U.S. holiday shopping season in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Our industry has evolved fast and furious,” said Bridget Lambert, president of the West Virginia Retailers Association.
Lambert talked with MetroNews on Tuesday, a day after the National Retail Federation released its holiday forecast which is typically issued in October.
The projected growth in this year unlike any other is in line with last year’s increase of four percent and the average holiday sales increase of 3.5 percent during the past five years.
“Consumers have shown they are excited about the holidays and are willing to spend on gifts that lift the spirits of family and friends after such a challenging year,” said Matthew Shay, NRF president and CEO.
The NRF analysis includes online and other non-store sales minus automobile dealers, gas stations and restaurants.
It’s based on indicators including employment, wages, consumer confidence, disposable income, consumer credit, previous retail sales and weather.
For those employed, NRF cited a strong stock market, rising home values and record savings with help from this year’s stimulus payments as contributors to optimism among shoppers.
Some people have also spent less money this year on personal services, travel and entertainment.
“Given the pandemic, there is uncertainty about consumers’ willingness to spend but, with the economy improving, most have the ability to spend,” said Jack Kleinhenz, NRF chief economist.
“Consumers have experienced a difficult year but will likely spend more than anyone would have expected just a few months ago.”
Lambert said evidence of that was already showing in West Virginia.
In some cases, “We recognize that citizens do have additional funds and more disposable income than they did and we are seeing them spend that in the retail marketplace right now,” Lambert said.
For NRF, the holiday season is defined as the period between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31.
However, at many stores, the push for holiday shoppers began much earlier this year.
Black Friday and other promotional events launched four to six weeks ahead of typical retail schedules at a time when COVID-19 store safety protocols remained in place.
As estimated 42 percent of consumers started their holiday shopping earlier than usual.
Along with the bigger stores, “We need to remember our Main Street merchants. They’ve struggled some this year to get back on their feet after being closed down earlier,” Lambert said.
“They will also be offering great holiday deals this season and their expert customer service they offer all year long.”
Compared with the third quarter of 2019, e-commerce sales were up 36.7 percent, according to NRF.
“Customers are now using online, curbside pickup, in-store delivery and delivery to the door and the delivery service companies are also seeing a boost,” Lambert said.
Kleinhenz, with the NRF, said rising coronavirus case numbers were a concern nationwide.
“There are risks to the economy if the virus continues to spread, but as long as consumers remain confident and upbeat, they will spend for the holiday season,” Kleinhenz said.
“After all they’ve been through, we think there’s going to be a psychological factor that they owe it to themselves and their families to have a better-than-normal holiday.”