Economic Impact: Good reasons for retail sales to be strong for this year's holiday shopping season

Posted on November 19, 2018 by Chris Chmura

By the appearance inside many stores at malls and shopping centers, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

This is the time of year that represents about 20 percent of the retail industry's total sales.

And based on recent announcements by some national retailers of plans to hire more seasonal workers than last year, it looks like the chains are optimistic about the upcoming holiday shopping season.

And there is good reason for that optimism.

Employment in the nation continues to grow and the unemployment rate of 3.7 percent in September is at its lowest level since 1969.

Personal income is up 4.7 percent for the 12 months ending in August compared with the previous period, or by $788 billion. American consumers like to spend, so much of that increase in income will translate into purchases.

But will that result in more sales at the holidays than last year?

The National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group, predicts holiday sales will increase between 4.3 percent and 4.8 percent.

Last year's holiday sales, including e-commerce, rose 5.3 percent to $688 billion compared with 2016 — the largest increase since the 5.2 percent gain that occurred in 2010 after the Great Recession ended.

Global financial services firm Deloitte is looking for this year's holiday sales to rise between 5 percent and 5.6 percent from November through January compared with the same period a year ago.

There's another bright spot: retailers have an extra shopping day between Thanksgiving and Christmas than last year. And Christmas falls on a Tuesday this year, giving shoppers a full weekend to complete their frenzied buying.

With such low unemployment rates in the nation and state, however, some retailers may be hard pressed to find the workers needed to serve all their customers.

A report by Korn Ferry, an executive recruiting firm, predicts that about a quarter of retailers won’t be able to find all the temporary workers they need. Long lines and slow delivery times could put a damper on sales.

This blog reflects Chmura staff assessments and opinions with the information available at the time the blog was written.