The National Retail Federation (NRF) is predicting that holiday sales in November and December - excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants - will increase between 3.6% and 4% this year over 2015. That'll add up to $678.75 billion to $682 billion, up from $655.8 billion last year. That would meet or exceed last year's growth of 3.6% and the 3.5% average of the last five year.
One of the big reasons for that larger payday is the fact that Christmas falls 32 days after Thanksgiving this year, one day more than last year. It's also on a Monday instead of Sunday, giving consumers an extra weekend day to complete their shopping.
"Our forecast reflects the very realistic steady momentum of the economy and overall strength of the industry," says NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. "Although this year hasn't been perfect, especially with the recent devastating hurricanes, we believe that a longer shopping season and strong consumer confidence will deliver retailers a strong holiday season."
According to a survey by accounting firm Deloitte, 79% of holiday shoppers plan to spend as much or more than they did in 2015. More than 80% of households say their financial situation has stabilized or improved since last year. The average household surveyed by Deloitte expects to spend $1,226 during the holiday, with $407 of that going to gifts or gift cards and the remainder spent on parties, family get-togethers, clothing, furniture and other non-gift items.
On average, shoppers are planning to pick up 15 gifts this year, up from 13 in 2012 but still down from 23 in pre-recession 2007. Of those gifts, 27% will be an experience (concert, show, vacation, restaurant visit). However, among those giving more traditional gifts, clothing and gift cards rank highest (49%), with electronics (40%), games/toys (39%), books (36%), food/booze33% and health and beauty supplies (29%) dragging behind. Just 24% would give cash, though 36% would like to receive it. That makes cash the third most-popular gift behind electronics (40%) and gift cards (39%).
Where is all of this shopping going to happen? Well, for 55% of shoppers (up from 51% last year), it'll be online. Discount stores like Walmart (WMT - Get Report) and Target (TGT - Get Report) (44%), department stores (28%), off-price stores and outlet stores (24%) have all seen their shares dwindle since last year. That said, 43% of those who shop online have no problem picking up items in the store, which is especially true of those shopping for home goods (45%), electronics (43%), clothing (43%) and toys (39%).
However, neither those retailers nor the retail calendar are going to decide when people will wrap up their holiday shopping. Roughly 20% of shoppers will be done by Thanksgiving, 26% will call it quits after Cyber Monday and 54% won't be finished until later in December or even January. One in five shoppers will spend 23% of their holiday budget after Dec. 25, with 51% still buying for the 2017 holiday season.
That's spreading holiday spending all over the calendar, with 53% of shoppers saying they don't rely on Black Friday sales as much as they once did. Another 42% will shop whenever there's a sale, and 44% will use those sales to buy big-ticket items for themselves.
However, even with 51% of shoppers doing their shopping online, the 42% of holiday shoppers who still shop in stores and the 43% of online shoppers who do in-store pickup can make specific dates on the holiday calendar a nightmare. With help from the folks at retail research firm ShopperTrak, here are the ten busiest days for holiday shopping this season.
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Editors' pick: Originally published Nov. 24.
Smell that? No, it isn't peppermint, egg nog, blue spruce or chestnuts roasting on an open fire: it's desperation.
The people who shop on this day are the people who think they're getting to the stores for last-minute gifts ahead of the real slackers. They're the ones who know that they won't get free shipping, can't guarantee that an Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) Prime order will arrive on time and don't want to pay extra for priority shipping. These are people running out of options, and they're dangerous around this time of year. If you're shopping for the same 4K television that they are, heaven help you.
At this stage, this is a whole lot of people making returns. Sure, there may be some gift cards spent on this day. There might be some stragglers digging into the after-Christmas sales. But with the clearance shelves picked over and most gift cards just as easily redeemable online, it's safe to say that these are a bunch of folks who are hoping that the folks who shopped for them weren't lying to accounting firm Deloitte when 44% of them said they'd shop at places with easy return policies. For the sake of everyone getting dud gifts this year, let's hope that they shopped at retailers that will allow you to make returns at any store location (67% of shoppers considered this important), have refund options other than store credit (63%) and have a 30- to 90-day return window (51%).
The end of Cyber Week just reminds people that they'd better get to stores before things get too ridiculous. Good luck with that on any Saturday from Black Friday onward. Everyone has the same idea: Go shopping on your one weekend day off when blue laws can't close stores. However, this is also that safe period where you can shop and not have to worry about onerous store return policies. With the exception of certain electronics purchases, almost all retailers will honor returns made 30 days in advance or less. As shopping Saturdays go during the holiday season, this really isn't so bad. Just don't expect to be alone.
You're now starting to see why malls and big-box stores have those ridiculously large lots. They're built for exactly this time of year and will be lucky to hold snow piles or unused shopping carts for every other month on the calendar. This is when traffic starts to build up around malls you thought were dead. This is when there's suddenly a small army ahead of you in line for coffee at a shop that had no line at this time a month ago. This is when the Black Friday crowd has cleared out, but the last rush of shoppers just started showing up. With 54% of shoppers not planning to finish until December or later, this is the calm before the storm.
This is where the panic begins. You're almost officially out of online delivery options. Millions of people just thought to themselves, "Hey, I can just do in-store pickup," and will be crowding the customer service desk after work. There's no way anyone of sound mind or body is going to brave a store on the Saturday before Christmas. As for Sunday, Christmas Eve? Good luck finding a store that isn't slammed that morning or closed that night. The Friday before Christmas is your last chance to somewhat cheat the system. Just realize that there will be a whole lot of people "cheating" with you.
Ever walk into a store on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and ask yourself not only why there are so many people there, but why everything is so cheap? It happened to us a couple of years ago at a Home Depot, where a wet-dry vac ended up in the cart for only two reasons: we didn't have one and this one was marked down to $35. We still have that wet-dry vac, but consider yourself warned: now that people won't get up on Black Friday anymore, both consumers and stores make Black Friday last throughout the weekend.
This gets labeled as a return day, but that's just incredibly wrong. There's no urgency to return an item a day after Christmas unless a store's return policy is so draconian that it sneaks in Black Friday purchases just under the wire. No, this is when the smartest shoppers on the planet either buy presents for people they haven't seen yet (not everyone lives within driving distance of friends and family) or stock up on discounted decorations and holiday supplies. Of the 20% of shoppers who spend 23% of their holiday budget after Christmas, 12% do so to stock up for 2018, 51% buy for this holiday season and 38% take advantage of after-holiday sales for themselves. This is very much a shopping day, and it's an important one for both retailers and consumers who don't let holiday shopping end just because the holiday has passed.
Deloitte says 72% of online shoppers will take advantage of free shipping this year. However, 65% of those somewhat wrongly believe that they'll be able to get free shipping on December 17 or later and have their goods arrive by Christmas. They're only somewhat correct. While UPS' first Christmas shipping deadline isn't until December 18, the U.S. Postal Service only guarantees Christmas delivery for standard mail sent by December 15. After that, you're springing for First Class or Priority Mail. FedEx SmartPost (Dec. 11) and FedEx Ground (Dec. 15) can't guarantee Christmas delivery after this date, either. Best of luck springing for Home Delivery or one of FedEx's myriad other, costlier options. Even the online shopping holiday Free Shipping Day takes place on December 15 to allow for this. The third Saturday in December is when many consumers finally acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of online options that aren't e-cards or online gift certificates just aren't available to them anymore. This is brick-and-mortar's time to shine, and it's also as crowded and calamitous a shopping season as pre-internet parents and grandparents remember.
This is just unwise, but will likely be necessary. There are only so many weekends in the holiday season. Between office parties, your friends' parties, kids' school activities and all of your other weekend duties that don't just disappear during the holiday season, there are a finite number of hours to get some shopping done. Unless you're willing to shell out for UPS, FedEx or USPS' fastest shipping options -- or pay Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy (BBY - Get Report) , Toys R Us, Macy's (M - Get Report) , Apple (AAPL - Get Report) or Dell to use those premium shipping options -- you're going to have to brave the stores. Just try not to save the most-coveted items for last and be incredibly patient. This day isn't going to be easy on anyone, so give yourself plenty of time and get your line-waiting shoes on.
Last year, the NRF estimates that 154.4 million people shopped on Thanksgiving weekend, including 75% who shopped in one form or another on Black Friday. However, Black Friday may not be the overall largest retail holiday. That 75% is 116 million, which is about 6 million fewer people than the NRF says shopped on Cyber Monday last year. Also, the number of folks getting up and out for the early morning "doorbuster" sales is dwindling. The NRF says 29% of Black Friday headed out after 10 a.m. on Black Friday, up from 24%in 2015. Meanwhile. less than 15% of consumers arrived to the stores by 6 a.m. or earlier on Black Friday.
Thanksgiving isn't helping, either. Not only are its $1.3 billion in online sales outside ComScore's Top 10, but a number of big retailers including Nordstrom (JWN - Get Report) and Costco (COST - Get Report) stay closed for the holiday. And just about nobody's skipping Thanksgiving dinner to shop anymore. Only about 35% to 36% of Thanksgiving weekend shoppers hit stores on Thanksgiving itself, and only 7% of that crew got to stores before 5 p.m., down a whopping 19% from 2015.