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September 26th, 2010Holiday retail sales forecast

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by Anthony L. Liuzzo

Holiday retail sales forecasting begins in earnest during the month of September. “Back to School” and Labor Day sales are the early indicators. Usually apparel sales perform better during this period than during the holiday season. The day after Thanksgiving is the next big indicator. The holiday shopping season usually peaks on the Saturday immediately before Christmas. The majority of shoppers begin their holiday browsing in October, but most begin purchasing gifts in early November.

In 2009, holiday retail sales amounted to approximately $458 billion, an increase of about 3.6 percent from 2008 sales. However, it is important to note that the 2009 holiday shopping season benefited from an additional day of sales – there were 28 days in the holiday season of 2009, whereas there were only 27 days in 2008.

Holiday retail sales are generally defined as same-store sales made during the last two months of the year (November and December). These sales represent 25 to 30 percent of total-year retail sales. During the past 25 years or so, profits on these sales have been declining, indicating deep discounting and increased competition for consumer dollars. It is interesting to note that the figures published by the National Retail Federation do not include gift cards (which are counted only when redeemed), supermarkets, drug stores and home improvement stores. Consequently, the published numbers are not always consistent with retail sales reported by the United States Department of Commerce.

Contrary to popular belief, the Thanksgiving weekend accounts for less than 10 percent of holiday sales (in 2009, shoppers spent approximately $42 billion on holiday spending during this weekend), while retail sales during the weekend just prior to Christmas represent about 30 percent of holiday sales. Furthermore, the week between Christmas and New Year’s now brings in about 10 percent of holiday sales. The Saturday before Christmas is usually the busiest shopping day of the year, replacing the day after Thanksgiving. This latter is referred to as Black Friday, so named because retailers’ profit numbers are “in the black.”

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