Holiday retail sales predicted to inch higher

Holiday retail sales predicted to inch higher

Holidays sales are expected to rise this year but only modestly so, according to a forecast to be released by the National Retail Federation on Thursday.

Sales in November and December are projected to increase 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion, up from last year’s sales growth of 3.5 percent, according to the association.

“Our forecast is a realistic look at where we are right now in this economy, balancing continued uncertainty in Washington and an economy that has been teetering on incremental growth for years,” Matthew Shay, president and chief executive of the organization, said in a statement.

Online sales, however, may rise as much as 15 percent to $82 billion, as more consumers turn to their mobile phone to place holiday orders.

“Online and mobile continue to be a leading area of growth for retailers,” Shay said. “In this economy, savvy, cost-conscious consumers go to the web to do their research and get the best bang for their buck.”

A rebounding housing market and falling unemployment rates have already lured some consumers back into stores in recent months, economists say.

Retailers appear to be cautiously optimistic, with many chains ramping up hiring for seasonal workers., whose founder Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post, plans to hire 70,000 seasonal employees this year, a 40 percent increase from last year, while Wal-Mart has said it will hire 55,000 seasonal workers, roughly 10 percent more than last year.

Even so, forecasts for holiday sales have varied significantly, with ShopperTrak, a Chicago research firm, projecting a 2.4 percent increase in sales and Deloitte expecting a lift of up to 4.5 percent.

Coming off the heels of a lackluster back-to-school season, many retailers have already begun looking for ways to lure holiday shoppers. Kmart released its first Christmas ad in September, and retailers like Wal-Mart announced layaway programs as early as August.

More than one-third of consumers have already begun their holiday shopping, up from 26 percent last year, according to RetailMeNot, a digital coupon Web site.

“It’s the Christmas creep gone wild,” spokeswoman Trae Bodge said. “Consumers are realizing that waiting until the last minute causes a large strain on their budget. More and more, we’re seeing them spreading those expenses over a number of months.”