Holiday sales in 2015 increased 3.2 percent and 4.1 percent in 2014. During a booming economy holiday sales could grow as much as 6.8 percent as they did in 2004, or could actually decrease during an economic downturn as they did in 2008 when the industry reported sales dropped 4.6 percent over the previous year. On average, holiday sales have increased 2.5 percent for the last 10 years.
For some retailers, the holiday season can represent as much as 30 percent of annual sales with jewelry stores reporting the highest percentage, accounting for approximately 27.4 percent of their sales during the 2015 holiday season. Overall last year holiday sales represented nearly 20 percent of total retail industry sales.
While NRF reserves the right to change its forecast at any time, NRF rarely does so. The last time NRF revised its holiday forecast was in 2011.
NRF’s holiday forecast is based on an economic model using indicators such as housing data, unemployment and previous monthly retail sales reports from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The Commerce Department continuously revises retail sales data. NRF relies on the most recent set of estimates from the government for all of its forecasts and sales releases. In comparison, however, NRF’s holiday surveys conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics provide a snapshot of what consumers say they plan to do for the holiday season. This is the 15th holiday season that NRF has partnered with Prosper to provide holiday data, making it possible to identify year-over-year trends.
NRF tallies total retail industry sales from November and December — 61 days — to determine holiday sales. Holidays during this period include Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. This year there are 30 days from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, which includes four weekends. Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, meaning the weekend after Christmas will likely be one of the busiest of the year.
Retail industry sales include most traditional retail sales categories such as discount stores, department stores, grocers, specialty stores and non-store sales but exclude sales at automotive dealers, gas stations and restaurants.
NRF projects online holiday sales to increase between 7 and 10 percent to as much as $117 billion during the months of November and December. Online holiday sales in 2015 increased 9 percent, to $105 billion, according to NRF.
NRF’s estimates are based on data collected by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Census, the Conference Board and NRF’s own calculations. These estimates include personal income and spending, consumer credit, consumer confidence and previous monthly retail reports.
Each year about 40 percent of consumers begin their holiday shopping before Halloween. While most retailers do not begin holiday advertising until at least October or November, they recognize that many people like shopping early to spread out spending. As a result, many retailers are putting holiday merchandise on the shelves in September – specifically decorations and greeting cards, which many people buy months in advance.
NRF does not monitor or track sales by day through the holiday season or annually. However, ShopperTrak, which counts foot traffic at malls, reports that Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year, followed by “Super Saturday” and the Sunday before Christmas. NRF research found in 2015 that over the entire holiday weekend, beginning Thanksgiving Day, more than 151 million shoppers having shopped in stores or online that day.
Black Friday is still one of the biggest shopping days for retailers. However, Super Saturday appears to be overtaking Black Friday in actual sales, and this year the Friday before Christmas (Sunday) will likely rival both Black Friday and Super Saturday. When looking at our data last year, as much as 40 percent of the season’s sales happen in the 10 days before Christmas.
There is no question that heavy discounting early in the holiday sales season, both online and in stores, along with retailers opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day have cut into Black Friday sales. However, Black Friday remains the official kick-off to the holidays and an important tradition for millions of shoppers across the country. There is no indication that will change in the foreseeable future.
There is no question that heavy discounting early in the holiday sales season — both online and in stores — along with retailers opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day have cut into Black Friday sales. However, Black Friday remains the “official” kick-off to the holidays and an important tradition for millions of shoppers across the country. There is no indication that will change in the foreseeable future.
Black November is a term coined by a variety of retailers who are offering Black Friday deals as early as November 1 throughout the entire holiday season. Retailers are participating in this action by offering special deals on key holiday gifts such as toys, home electronics, consumer electronics, apparel and much more. These special deals can be found both online and in-stores.
More than 4 in 10 holiday shoppers say they begin their holiday shopping before Halloween. Therefore, it’s important for retailers to think about winning not just Black Friday, but the whole extended “Black November” and throughout the season.
NRF is not officially affiliated with Small Business Saturday, however, we greatly support any initiative to recognize the millions of small retail business establishments and their contributions to the economy and their communities. In fact, 98 percent of all U.S. retail companies employ 50 people or fewer.
At NRF, we define shopping as the intent to purchase by browsing for items online and in-stores. Purchasing is the actual action to buy a product whether online and in-stores.
Some retailers make return policies more lenient during the holiday season, understanding that there may be a lag time between when a gift is purchased and received. However, many retailers have also begun to change their return policies to account for an increase in return fraud. Last year, according to NRF’s Return Fraud survey, retailers estimated they would lose $9.12 billion due to return fraud during the holiday season.
NRF's annual overview of holiday trends and expectations serves as a guide for reporters and retailers, offering historical information on holiday sales, employment data and consumer trends.