Christmas is still three months away, but you would think it is just around the corner as retailers start to gear up for the most important shopping season of the year.
“It’s too early to predict holiday sales, but merchants are clearly stocking up,” said Jonathan Gold of the National Retail Federation.
The group tracks cargo coming to the United States from foreign ports and it expects to see a 5.1 percent increase for shipments of items to stock shelves at retailers for the holidays.
While the NRF may not be ready to make a forecast for spending, another group is suggesting sales this year are expected to climb to between $963 billion and $967 billion, an increase of 4.5 percent over the season last year.
“Rising home prices with steady job creation may buoy consumer confidence in the economy and create a wealth effect. The debt ceiling and budget debate will resume this fall alongside uncertainty about the implementation of health care reform, which may cause some concern among consumers. But at a macro level, these factors are unlikely to have a significant effect on the economy and retail sales,” said Daniel Bachman, chief U.S. economist at Deloitte.
And, as has been the case in recent years, more retailers are jumping the gun to attract shoppers. A report from ExperianMarketing Services finds 49 percent of companies plan to start their marketing activities before Halloween.
“Our consumer confidence data shows it at the highest it’s been since the recession, so we expect the early promotion trend to carry over into the holiday season, with Black Friday deals being offered even earlier than last year,” according to Bill Tancer of Experian.
Retailers are also seizing the opportunity to attract online shoppers where growth is significantly higher than at brick-and-mortar stores. Deloitte forecasts as much as a 13 percent increase in nonstore sales.
“Consumers using their smartphones are more likely to make a purchase compared to other shoppers in the store, indicating that these activities are contributing to sales and keeping a shopper from turning to a competitor, contrary to the concern that ‘showrooming’ and price checking could negatively affect sales,” said Deloitte’s Alison Paul.
Retailers are also getting an early start on hiring the extra staffing necessary to handle increased holiday activity in their stores as well as through distribution centers.
Walmart plans to hire 55,000 seasonal associates at the same time it moves 35,000 current workers from temporary to part-time and another 35,000 from part-time to full-time.
Kohl’s Department Stores will take on more than 50,000 seasonal workers, an average of 40 new employees for each of its 1,158 stores. And Target will bring on 70,000 seasonal staff members. The number is below last year’s holiday hiring, as employees are willing to take on additional overtime hours to meet the demand.
Bottom line, there is ample evidence consumers will look beyond the debates in Washington and make their shopping decisions based on their own personal finances, which report after report shows significant signs of improvement.