Winter Holiday FAQ's

A blue door with a holiday wreath hanging

What is NRF's prediction for holiday sales growth this year?

NRF expects holiday retail sales in November and December — excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants — to increase between 4.3 and 4.8 percent over 2017. Total spending is expected to range from $717.45 billion to $720.89 billion.

How much have holiday sales grown in the last few years?

Holiday sales increased by 5.3 percent in 2017 and 3.2 percent in 2016. During a booming economy, holiday sales can increase significantly as they did in 2004 when they grew by 6.8 percent. They can also 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 3.9 percent on average over the past five years.

What percentage of annual sales do the holidays represent

For some retailers, the holiday season can represent as much as 30 percent of annual sales with hobby, toy and game stores reporting the highest percentage, accounting for approximately 30.1  percent of their sales during the 2017 holiday season. Overall, last year holiday sales represented nearly 20 percent of total retail industry sales.

Will NRF change its holiday forecast throughout the course of the holiday season?

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.

How do NRF's surveys differ from its forecast?

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.

How many extra jobs does the retail industry create during the holiday season

NRF estimates that retailers will hire over 585,000 new holiday positions in 2018. Learn more about retail employment and seasonal hiring.

What does NRF classify as the "winter holidays"?

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. In 2018 there are 32 days from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, which includes five weekends. Christmas falls on a Tuesday this year, meaning the weekend before Christmas will likely be one of the busiest of the year.

How does NRF define "Retail Industry Sales"?

Retail industry sales include store-based and online sales from a broad range of retail categories including, discount stores, department stores, grocers, specialty stores and non-store sales but exclude sales at automotive dealers, gas stations and restaurants.

What factors are used to calculate NRF's online holiday forecast?

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.

Why are many retailers putting holiday merchandise on the shelves so early?

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.

Are the deals and store openings cutting into black Friday's sales momentum?

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.

What role do Cyber Monday and Black Friday play in the holiday season?

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are part of the five-day shopping event that begins on Thanksgiving Day and continues through the following Monday. Together these five-days represent some of the busiest shopping days of the year as consumers browse and buy on-line, in-stores and increasingly, on their mobile devices. In 2017 an estimated 174.6 million consumers shopped over thanksgiving weekend spending $335 on average.

What is "Black November"? How are retailers participating in it?

Black November is a term coined by a variety of retailers who are offering Black Friday deals as early as November 1  in response to consumers’ desire to get a head start on their holiday shopping. 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.

Is NRF affiliated with Small Business Saturday?

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, 90 percent of all U.S. retail companies employ 100 people or fewer.

What's the difference between shopping and purchasing?

At NRF, we define shopping as the intent to purchase by browsing for items online and in stores. Purchasing is the act of buying a product, whether online or in stores.

Why have retailers changed their return policies?

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.