Retailers face a challenging holiday shopping season amidst economic uncertainty.
Football season, just kicked off, but retailers are already gearing up for their Super Bowl event, the holiday shopping season.
The coming months will see the three biggest shopping days of the year. Two of them are in November, in which people do the bulk of their holiday shopping, according to the National Retail Federation. The first is the day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday, a reference to retailers being “in the black,” or making a profit. Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, is the online equivalent of Black Friday. The Saturday before Christmas is also a busy shopping day. (They should probably call it “Procrastinator Saturday”).
Between market volatility, persistent high unemployment, and wavering consumer confidence, this holiday season comes at a time when there is very little to ho-ho-ho about. And as consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of the nation’s economic activity, analysts look to the holiday shopping season to help the big economic picture.
There are hopeful indicators that this will be a green Christmas. Last year’s holiday shopping season will be a hard act to follow. November (when 41 percent did their holiday shopping, according to the National Retail Federation) and December topped expectations. Sales rose 4.4 percent, the best holiday results in five years The Chicago Tribune reported. This year, the International Council of Shopping centers forecasts sales will rise 3.5 percent for the final two months of the year.
Retail ecommerce sales jumped from $39.2 billion to $53.2 billion between the third and fourth quarters last year, the U.S. Department of Commerce said, and Google is projecting that 44 percent of searches for last minutes gifts and store locations will be made from mobile devices this year, while 15% of all Black Friday searches will happen on a smartphone.
Another optimistic sign is that retailers are getting a head start on advertising with substantial campaigns to woo shoppers, The New York Times noted. For example, Coldwater Creek is hawking its fall merchandise in its first national television campaign. The September issue of Real Simple magazine features ads from a dozen major retailers, including Lord and Taylor and J.C. Penney, the Times observed.
And beware of Christmas Creep, the practice of offering holiday promotions that appear earlier and earlier (as with stores that have already installed Halloween displays).
But robust sales may not translate into a job, which is bad news for the estimated 5 percent and 25 percent more applicants expected to be seeking seasonal jobs this year, according to an annual national hiring survey conducted by the Hay Group. While 68 percent of retailers are expecting holiday sales to top last year’s figures, the same percentage plan on keeping holiday hiring at roughly the same level as 2010. Staffing, retailers say, is an area in which they can offset costs.