Holiday sales likely to grow 4.1% from ’11, retailers say


NEW YORK — Americans are expected to spend more during what’s traditionally the busiest shopping season of the year, but they're not exactly ready to shop ’til they drop like they have been the past two years.

The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, said Tuesday it expects November and December sales to rise 4.1 percent this year. That’s more than a percentage point lower than the growth in each the past two years, and it would be the smallest increase since 2009, when sales were up just 0.3 percent.

The projections are an important indicator for retailers that depend on the last two months of the year for up to 40 percent of their annual sales.

But the estimates also offer valuable insight for economists who closely watch consumer spending, which accounts for up to 70 percent of economic activity. (The federation for the first time is counting online sales and sales from the auto parts and accessories business. It has revised every year’s holiday figures from 2000 to reflect the change.)

The federation’s forecast is more optimistic than the International Council of Shopping Centers, a mall trade group that last week predicted a 2.9 percent increase. It’s also higher than the 3.3 percent growth estimated by ShopperTrak, a Chicago analyzer of retail foot traffic, last month.

At the Appliance Center in Maumee, manager Kenny Wanemacher said the retail federation’s 4.1 percent estimate is probably realistic. “We’re very optimistic. A big part of that is this entire year has been fantastic for us. It seems like while everybody else is struggling, with Best Buy going down, we’ve been very successful this year,” Mr. Wanemacher said. “Our sales have been very good. In comparison to last year, we’ve done a lot better.”

Keri Suhy, owner of the Vivian Kate women’s apparel shop in Levis Commons in Perrysburg, is also feeling more positive. “... We’re excited, and I think that 4.1 percent might be on the conservative side,” Ms. Suhy said, adding that her 2012 sales are running 4 percent ahead of 2011.

The holiday shopping season is a gauge not only of shopping habits, but also the mind-set of the average American during a slow and uneven economic recovery. Many feel better about rising home prices and a rebounding stock market, but job growth remains weak, and prices for everything from food to gas are higher. At the same time, there’s uncertainty about who the next president will be and worry about another recession.

“In all the years, this is the most challenging year doing a forecast,” said Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer of the National Retail Federation. “There are so many uncertainties.”