With the passing of Grey Thursday and Black Friday, and the coming of Cyber Monday, the 2012 holiday shopping season is in full swing.
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the unofficial start to the seasonal retail rush, but the earlier start on Thursday is being labeled “Grey Thursday.” Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, is the online retail equivalent to Black Friday.
Tempered by political and fiscal uncertainties but supported by signs of improvement in consumer confidence, holiday sales this year will increase 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion, the National Retail Federation reported. NRF’s 2012 holiday forecast is higher than the 10-year average holiday sales increase of 3.5 percent. Actual holiday sales in 2011 grew 5.6 percent.
“This is the most optimistic forecast NRF has released since the recession. In spite of the uncertainties that exist in our economy and among consumers, we believe we’ll see solid holiday sales growth this year,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Variables including an upcoming presidential election, confusion surrounding the ‘fiscal cliff’ and concern relating to future economic growth could all combine to affect consumers’ spending plans, but overall we are optimistic that retailers promotions will hit the right chord with holiday shoppers.”
Recent government data released shows a crosscurrent of indicators that could impact holiday sales, including unimpressive job and income growth and an unemployment rate stuck at eight percent. However, positive indicators are emerging that show a cautious but capable consumer, such as increases in confidence and home prices.
“While moderate compared to what we experienced the last two holiday seasons, the forecast is a very pragmatic look at what to expect this year given the current rate of economic growth,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz, Ph.D. “There’s still some general anxiety amongst consumers when it comes to how the state of the economy is impacting their spending plans, but retailers can expect to see excitement around their promotions and plenty of bargain hunters both online and in stores in the coming months.”
NRF’s holiday sales forecast is based on an economic model using several indicators including consumer confidence, consumer credit, disposable personal income, and previous monthly retail sales releases. It now includes the non-store category (direct-to-consumer, kiosks and online sales.) For historic sales information visit NRF’s Holiday Headquarters.
For some retailers, the holiday season can represent anywhere between 20–40 percent of annual sales. In 2011, holiday sales represented 19.5 percent of total retail industry sales.
NRF does not monitor or track sales day by day. However, ShopperTrak, which counts foot traffic in more than 25,000 stores in the U.S., forecasted that Black Friday would remain the number one performing day in 2011, followed by Saturday, Dec. 17 and then Friday, Dec. 23.
Online holiday sales up
Shop.org for the first time in its history today released its 2012 online holiday sales forecast, expecting sales to grow 12 percent over last holiday season to as much as $96 billion. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates total 2011 4th Quarter e-commerce sales increased 15 percent. Shop.org defines the holiday season as sales in the months of November and December.
“Online retail has been a bright spot for years and we don’t expect that trend to change anytime soon, especially with the growth in mobile,” stated Shay. “Aside from the convenience, shoppers look to the holiday season to take advantage of retailers’ increased digital offerings. In addition to enhancing the site experience, retailers have spent the year investing in optimizing their mobile and social platforms, just what holiday shoppers are looking for.”
The term Cyber Monday was coined in 2005 by Shop.org based on a clear consumer trend that retailers began to recognize in 2003 and 2004. At the time, retailers noticed that many consumers, who were too busy to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend or did not find what they were looking for, shopped online that Monday from home or work to find bargains.
Seasonal employment grows
According to NRF, retailers are expected to hire between 585,000 and 625,000 seasonal workers this holiday season, which is comparable to the 607,500 seasonal employees they hired last year.
“The retail industry creates hundreds of thousands of jobs every holiday season by adding new staff in stores, distribution centers, and customer service departments across the country. In addition to the newly created jobs, many retailers also offer existing staff the opportunity to work longer hours if they want,” said Shay. “New jobs help people support their families, and for some, seasonal employment can turn into a career opportunity once the holidays have passed.”