NRF economist sees better days for retailers amid digital reinvention

The man from Cleveland strolled into a Manhattan shop hunting for two items: an overcoat and an overview. The first would shield him from the chill. The second would provide him even more intel on the state of American retail.

Jack Kleinhenz bagged both.

“I love the social interaction of the stores,” says Kleinhenz, chief economist for the National Retail Federation and principal of Kleinhenz & Associates, a financial consulting and wealth management firm based in Ohio. “It’s entertaining for me. Of course, that’s probably because of my job.

“I like to go in and just observe. On that visit, I tried on a coat and talked to some sales associates. I asked them how things are going, what’s new and how they’re doing.”

What he heard: They’re doing better.

Kleinhenz was in New York to attend NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show. The industry’s annual, flagship event drew nearly 40,000 people to the Javits Center in January to see, sample and sell the latest retail goods and gadgetry.

In New York, Transform sat down with Kleinhenz to hear his views on the moods of both the sellers and the shoppers.

TRANSFORM: Heading into 2019, how hungry are consumers to spend their money in the stores and online?

JACK KLEINHENZ: The consumer is in a good place.

Financially, many households are in good shape. The ratio of monthly financial obligations to disposable income is still low, equal to what we saw 30 to 40 years ago, (according to the Federal Reserve Board). I think many people generally feel more secure – as far as their jobs and their balance sheets.

More broadly, we have some tailwinds going into 2019. We’re at near full employment. Wages have been increasing. Lower gas prices put more money into people’s hands to spend. And we’ve had some tax benefits, although it will be interesting to see what happens with tax refunds.

NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz speaks into a microphone.
NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. (Photo by Jerry Masek)

TRANSFORMNew tech is front and center at NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show. Which of these technologies have the greatest ability to elevate the retail companies that embrace them?

KLEINHENZ: It’s a great question but it’s hard to measure right now. I am seeing some interesting applications, specifically of AI and robotics.

Among the retail startups here that are using these new technologies, I’d say 15 to 20 percent of these firms could potentially be very, very successful over time.

Just look at what they’re doing. They’re making it easier and more cost effective for the retailer – and they’re making it attractive for the consumer.

TRANSFORM: What does it say to you that so many companies are investing in digital reinvention?

KLEINHENZ: That we’re not standing still.

You know, I love this line from (former racing star) Mario Andretti: ‘If everything seems under controlyoure not going fast enough.’And if (standing still) is the case, I think those companies have to move and they have to move fast. They can’t stand on their laurels. They can’t continue to operate as they have been.

TRANSFORM: What predictions about the digital revolution in retail have not come true?

KLEINHENZ: A few years ago, people would say: ‘Well, e-commerce is going to take over.’

What have we seen? We’ve seen a lot of convergence between e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar stores. They’re learning how they can be more effective in attracting consumers by having a store presence.

Retail firms are thinking: ‘No matter where I get sales, no matter what channel I get sales, that’s where I’ve got to go. So I have to do multiple channels.’ You’re not going to lose the consumer’s interest in actually going to a store, picking up an item, seeing and using that item in person.”

TRANSFORM: When you shop, what technologies do you use?

KLEINHENZ: I’m a multi-channel user. I go online and look at specific stores.

For successful e-commerce companies, if they can get you to their website, you become more loyal to them. That’s how they’re going to be successful rather than just having a consumer type a certain product into their browser and then seeing what that browser tells them.

For retailers, it’s all about creating that loyalty and that relationship. For me, I am a loyal customer of a number of retailers. I will shop online. But I also go to the stores. In fact, last weekend, I spent all day Saturday shopping with my wife, looking for an overcoat. And I found a good fit at a good price – a good day.”

U.S. retail-sales data go dark at a tough time for investors

U.S. Commerce Department/Bloomberg

The U.S. growth outlook hangs more than ever on American consumers’ resilience amid stock-market swoons and trade-war tensions, but key data on their spending — the biggest part of the economy — will be missing due to the government shutdown.

Was it a gangbusters Christmas shopping season as forecasts and anecdotal evidence suggested? Were consumers making big discretionary purchases in addition to essential spending as they entered 2019, even as some surveys showed confidence was waning? The answers will have to wait, as December retail sales won’t be released as scheduled Wednesday, Jan. 16, while the Commerce Department remains closed. Failure to reopen soon also would delay personal income and spending data, due Jan. 31.

Together, those reports constitute the most widely watched measures of household consumption, which accounts for about 70% of the economy. The disruptions come at a challenging time: Plunging regional gauges of U.S. manufacturing and business surveys indicate a slowdown in growth, and some big-name retailers have issued warnings about mixed holiday results.

While the solid job market remains a bulwark and consumers are in good shape, more — not less — information is needed to assess if the economy faces bigger-than-anticipated risks, one reason investors are nervous and Federal Reserve officials have emphasized patience in raising borrowing costs.

With no end in sight for the shutdown, a burgeoning concern is that data may not just be delayed, they may also not get collected as normal, Brown said.

For now, investors and analysts will have to rely on a patchwork of data. The Johnson Redbook report showed December sales rose from a year earlier, though it tracks a limited sample of results. The Retail Economist‐Goldman Sachs weekly chain-store sales figures are another source. Other groups provide clues on individual sectors, such as the National Restaurant Association’s monthly index.

The delay in government-issued economic releases “introduces a greater degree of uncertainty, which typically isn’t good,” said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthold Weeden Capital Management LLC. “It does create some real risk of misinterpretation” as people compensate with other, sometimes partial, sources of information, like a retail CEO’s comments.

The nuances in signals from consumers were evident in executive comments from Kroger Co., America’s biggest supermarket chain.

“They feel incredibly good about the economy but very nervous about where things are headed,” Chief Executive Officer Rodney McMullen said Sunday in an onstage interview at the National Retail Federation’s annual trade show in New York.

Credit-card results from companies including Visa and MasterCard would help fill some of the void. The Fed’s Beige Book release on Wednesday may also provide anecdotal details on spending and other parts of the economy. That’s why some investors are taking the data disruptions in stride.

Bloomberg

“In a world of big data, there are so many other ways to get a view of the consumer than the monthly numbers from the Commerce Department,” said David Sowerby, portfolio manager at the investment firm Ancora, which manages $6.9 billion.

E-commerce sales during the holiday season jumped 16.5% from a year earlier, according to Adobe Analytics, which measured online transactions from 80 top U.S. retailers.

No instruments

Still, companies depend on broader economic data to make investment decisions, and without it they’re “to a degree, flying without any instruments,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz.

The Commerce Department’s monthly data are crucial to get a bigger picture because about 90% of retail sales come from small businesses, he said. Recently, several large publicly traded retailers such as Macy’s Inc. and Kohl’s Corp. provided discouraging updates.

“It was disappointing news, but I don’t know how pervasive that performance was,” Kleinhenz said.

The trade association itself is somewhat in the dark until the government releases the data. Without official numbers, “we can’t provide our final report this week either” on holiday spending, according to NRF spokeswoman Ana Serafin Smith.

Nearly 1 in 8 Jobs Added in November in Retail, Says Report

A good chunk of the jobs created in November were in retail — likely to keep up with holiday sales — says the National Retail Federation.

Employment in retail was up by 18,600 jobs in November, seasonally adjusted from October, said the Federation. That means that of 155,000 jobs created in the overall economy last month, nearly one in eight were in retail.

Calling the retail jobs numbers “satisfying,” the federation’s chief economist, Jack Kleinhenz, said in a statement that the boost came during and after the wildfires in California and bad weather in other areas of nation, all of which likely dragged on the sector.

The numbers were a good sign, given the context of the overall economic and national picture, he said.

“In retail, the tight labor market has created sizable challenges in hiring – there are actually more retail jobs available than there are people to fill them. Retailers would hire more workers if they could find them,” said Kleinhenz, in a statement.

Still, compared to last year at the same time, unadjusted retail employment dipped by 16,300 jobs, said the group.

And, the Department of Labor, in its job report, noted that “retail trade employment changed little” in November, noting that most of the jobs created were in health care, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing.

The total employment numbers across all sectors released Friday by the Labor Department were considered a disappointment by many, as projections were for a bigger boost.

The jobless rate for retail was 4.2 percent; the unemployment rate overall remained unchanged at 3.7 percent.

Of the total positions in retail in November, most were at department stores, warehouse clubs and other general merchandise shops, while the rest were at a variety of merchants and in online sales. Many jobs were lost at sporting goods, hobby, electronics and appliances stores, according to the federation.

The group predicts up to $721 billion in retail sales over this holiday season.

RETAIL Online Spending Could Top $124B Over The Holidays

Retail Pundits Reveal Key Spending Themes This Holiday 2018 Shopping Season

FORBES

(Getty Images)

A lot of people will shop for the holidays! And they’ll buy online! And they will look at their phones a lot, too!

Duh.

It’s that time of year again, folks, when we retail reporter types can sometimes spew breathless pronouncements on the sometimes not-so-revelatory predictions pundits make on the make-or-break holiday selling season, when merchants generate a disproportionate chunk of their annual sales.

Here’s some predictions worth noting. Let the games begin.

Feeling Financially Flush, Consumers Will Spend More Than They Have In Five Years

The National Retail Federation expects holiday retail sales in November and December — excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants — to rise between 4.3% and 4.8% over 2017, for a total of  $720.89 billion. The forecast compares with an average annual increase of 3.9% over the past five years.

“The combination of increased job creation, improved wages, tamed inflation and an increase in [consumers’] net worth all provide the capacity and the confidence to spend,” the NRF’s chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said, in a statement.

Online retail will be the most popular shopping destination, with 60% of consumers planning e-commerce gifting this holiday season, according to a Deloitte survey.

An estimated 57% of holiday dollars will be spent online, eclipsing in-store purchasing, which is forecasted to account for 36% of consumer spending.

More than 70% of shoppers surveyed noted free shipping, while two-thirds cited time savings and home delivery, as the key reasons they’ll buy online this holiday, the survey found.

Of the nearly 50% of consumers who plan to use their smartphones to shop this holiday, 67% plan to use mobile to make a purchase, up from 57% last year.

Mass merchants are the second most popular venue for holiday shoppers (52%, up from 44% in 2017). Traditional department stores and off-price retailers round out the top-four shopping destinations.

Fewer Baubles And Blouses, More Brunches And Broadway Shows

Over the last five years, U.S. consumers have diverted more of their holiday budgets to experiences such as home entertaining and socializing away from home, which now represent 40%, or $611, of  survey respondents’ planned holiday budgets, the Deloitte study found.

While physical gift purchases, from clothes to household appliances, still dominate holiday purchases, they’re down trending. The number of shoppers who plan to buy a product has dropped 11% from 2017, according to Accenture. By contrast, shoppers planning to buy an experience or service-geared gift, from a meal out and a concert ticket to a cleaning service, rose 5%.

Millennials Will Be The Biggest Spenders, Practicing Conscious Consumption

An estimated 49% of younger Millennials plan to spend more this holiday than in 2017, while only 13% of their Baby Boomer counterparts expect to spend more than they did a year.

And Generation Y’s shopping venues will reflect their belief system. For example, 54% of younger Millennials said retailers have a duty to address broader social and political issues, such as diversity, be it gender, ethnic or disability inclusion, and they will reward merchants that do just that: 51% of younger Millennials surveyed are more likely to shop at a retailer that demonstrates awareness of these issues, the Accenture study found. “Our research suggests that younger Millennials are more likely to choose one brand over another if that brand demonstrates inclusion and diversity in terms of its promotions and offers, their in-store experience, their product range, and their environmental awareness,” said Jill Standish, senior managing director and head of Accenture’s retail practice, in a statement.

I’ve been a business journalist specializing in the retail industry for over a decade, covering consumer news, company profiles and industry analysis pieces, as well as the intersection of business news and shopping, fashion and social trends.

I was the retail and con…

FORBES

Retail

5 Things Retailers Need to Consider Heading Into the 2018 Holiday Shopping Season

Shutterstock photo

For most retailers, the 2018 holiday shopping season will present their biggest opportunity of the year to engage with customers. It will also represent the bulk of their annual sales.

As a result, this time of year is crucial for retailers to achieve success. With that in mind, current conditions make this holiday shopping season look positive for retailers.

1. Consumers Are Upbeat About Spending 

From what we’ve seen, customers are excited about shopping this year.

Brick-and-mortar sales will grow 1.4 percent and online growth is expected to reach 14 percent, according to Forrester Analytics: Online Holiday Retail Sales Forecast, 2018 (U.S.). Various studies also show that the average U.S. consumer will spend more during the upcoming holiday season, jumping from $1,226 per consumer to $1,536.

Deloitte’s annual holiday economic forecast looks great for retailers as well. Consumers seem confident about the economy, their household financial situations, and their spending plans for the upcoming holiday season.

Deloitte’s consumer survey shows online spending continues to grow and is expected to account for 57 percent of all purchases. Also, Deloitte’s research notes that shoppers are enthusiastic about the holiday season and remain price- and value-focused.

Based on the report, retailers are in a good spot to influence where consumers shop this year as many shoppers are entering the season undecided.

2. Thanksgiving is Coming Early

Consumers are doing their holiday shopping earlier based on a study by Bazaarvoice. An early Thanksgiving helps spread the holiday shopping theme to consumers.

Thanksgiving is as early as it can be this year (Nov. 22) which could prove helpful to retailers. Sixty percent of consumers say they begin their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving . This is particularly important this year because there will be 33 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Retailers have that much more time to fully engage consumers this holiday season. Although spending will increase this holiday season, retailers must be conscientious when it comes to identifying their best customers who are most likely to spend the most.

It appears that consumers look forward to spending early for their holiday shopping . This fact, combined with the Thanksgiving retail shopping period that includes Black Friday and Cyber Monday, means brands need to be prepared for this critical holiday shopping period around Thanksgiving.

3. The Strong Economy Will Help Retailers

Consumers are confident about the economy for several reasons. National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay cited some of these factors .

“Thanks to a healthy economy and strong consumer confidence, we believe that this holiday season will continue to reflect the growth we’ve seen over the past year,” Shay noted.

Holiday sales in 2017 totaled $687.87 billion, a 5.3 percent increase over 2016 and the largest increase since the 5.2 percent year-over-year gain seen in 2010 after the end of the Great Recession.

“Last year’s strong results were thanks to growing wages, stronger employment, and higher confidence, complemented by anticipation of tax cuts that led consumers to spend more than expected,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “With this year’s forecast, we continue to see strong momentum from consumers as they do the heavy lifting in supporting our economy. The combination of increased job creation, improved wages, tamed inflation and an increase in net worth all provide the capacity and the confidence to spend.”

All of these strong macroeconomic factors have contributed to one of the best consumer discretionary spending environments in years .

Consumer confidence in the economy is a powerful thing during the holiday season, which places retailers in an ideal situation to enhance engagement and retention levels.

4. Retailers Can Make the Holiday Season a Memorable One

Retailers can take advantage of the favorable economy and positive consumer sentiment through customer insights data during the holiday season.

Preparation for the holiday season is imperative for retailers. One under-the-radar element of holiday preparation for retailers should be website performance.

Whether it is a brick-and-mortar store or an ecommerce site, online presence marks the essence of every business strategy todayChecking website performance, load time, application performance testing, application load test, and much more are quickly becoming inevitable for commercial success.

All these factors play a vital role, especially during the high-pressure holiday season when every small or big portal is trying to grab maximum profits from the market.

During the holiday season retailers need to ensure that store associates are well versed and excited about the loyalty programs they will be promoting.

5. Customer Engagement Shouldn’t End with the 2018 Holiday Shopping Season

The holiday season is a great time to engage and create new customers, but what happens after that? One of the strategies a retailer can use to achieve this goal is a loyalty program.

There are thousands of loyalty programs out there, but consumers are drawn to ones that are simple and offer real value.

A new study shows  that 40 percent of customers who refrain from signing up for loyalty programs do so because the value of being a loyalty member is not worth the time, money, or effort of signing up. And for those who sign up, 76 percent do so to qualify for special promotions.

Retailers should take note of these statistics and evaluate special offers for loyalty members to ensure that their promotions are competitive and offer value.

Effectively leveraging a loyalty program during the holiday season can go a long way toward retaining customers in the long run. That customer engagement during the holiday season should continue in the New Year to bolster your consumer relationships.

Loyalty program signup is important throughout the year, but it takes on added importance and relevance during the holiday season.

Happy Holiday Shopping Season

If brands listen to their customers, identify their pain points, and meet their expectations, they can build solid two-way relationships that extend well beyond the holiday season.

Given the fact that consumers are upbeat about spending in a strong and vibrant economy, retailers can and should take advantage of the early Thanksgiving and make this holiday season a memorable one through increased customer engagement, more promotions around value-driven loyalty programs, and ensuring that store associates are proficient in your key brand messaging.

Creating memorable moments is a huge part of the holiday season.

Focus on your customers and enjoy a Happy Holiday Shopping Season!

11:06:55 AM EDT By 

Kusama “Infinity Mirrors” and FRONT International helped art museum break attendance, membership records

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Attendance boosted by the popular Yayoi Kusama “Infinity Mirrors” exhibition and the FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art this year helped the Cleveland Museum of Art break a 26-year record for the number of visitors attracted in any single summer.

Between July 1 and September 30, the museum said it attracted 305,692 visitors, the largest summer total in the institution’s 102-year history, and the largest since the same period in 1992, when the exhibition “Egypt’s Dazzling Sun: Amenhotep III,” helped the museum pull in 290,000 visitors.

Visitors this summer came from all 50 states and 23 foreign countries, generating $6.9 million in museum revenues, including $2.3 million in new memberships, the museum announced Thursday.

“We were really thrilled to see so many people come from so far away as well as close to home to celebrate the summer with us,” said Elizabeth Bolander, director of audience insights and services at the museum, who described the new information in an interview Wednesday.

The Amenhotep exhibition, organized to celebrate the museum’s 75thanniversary, drew 186,139 visitors, far more than the 120,000 attendees for the Kusama show, which surveyed the artist’s 65-year career.

The museum had to limit the number of attendees for “Infinity Mirrors,” which involved circulating small numbers of viewers in and out of specially constructed mirror rooms in 30-second shifts.

But with FRONT and other exhibitions and a full calendar of events and programs, the museum cruised past its 1992 summer attendance record.

The museum reported that it topped 30,000 memberships this summer for the first time in its history, exceeding the total of 29,491 membership households reached on June 30, 2016, the middle of the museum’s centennial year.

Shows during that period included “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse,” and “Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt.”

The museum said it created 120 temporary jobs to support the Kusama exhibition, and recruited 100 volunteers.

Data crunched by Cleveland economist Jack Kleinhenz show that the Kusama exhibition contributed $5.5 million in economic impact in Cuyahoga County.

The figure includes $3.2 million in direct spending by visitors from outside Cuyahoga County, plus additional sums calculated for the ripple of indirect and induced spending triggered by the new dollars flowing into the local economy. The increased spending created 58 new jobs in the county, according to the analysis.

Kleinhenz said the data were calculated from 732 visitor surveys, which represented a 33 percent response rate among those polled by the institution.

Figures extrapolated from the survey indicate that 44,522 visitors came to see the Kusama show from outside Cuyahoga County.

“It goes beyond pure economics,” Kleinhenz said of the museum’s impact on Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. “It’s such a unique brand, like the Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Browns and the Cleveland Clinic.”

Bolander said the summer of 2018 helped the museum understand how its recently expanded and renovated complex could accommodate a million visitors a year – a major goal of a new strategic plan unveiled in 2017.

Attendance has averaged 630,000 in recent years. Attendance this summer – if annualized – would nearly double that number.

“It was actually very exciting this summer,” Bolander said. “We were able to test if, you will, what it meant to be at that level of attendance for a sustained period.”

By Steven Litt, The Plain Dealer

Retailers Should Have a Happy Holiday Season

Barrons Vito J. Racanelli

The Amazon threat still hangs over many bricks-and-mortar retailers, but the coming holiday season should be a happy one for most, according to projections from the National Retail Federation.

The NRF said Wednesday it expects retail sales in November and December—excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants—to increase between 4.3% and 4.8% over the year-ago period, or to about $717.5 billion to $721 billion, says NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. The sales rise projected compares with an average annual holiday season gain of 3.9% over the past five years.

Could the tariffs ruin the holidays for shoppers?

October 3

“Get out the Ouija board.”

That’s how one retail analyst summed up the tricky task of predicting what lies ahead for retailers and shoppers this holiday season. Analysts say there’s ample reason to expect record-breaking sales on the back of a strong economy, a historically low unemployment rate and upward-ticking wages.

But that’s all hedged by a hefty unknown: the threat of ongoing tariffs and an escalating trade war. President Trump’s latest round of tariffs have kicked in at 10 percent and are set to rise to 25 percent at the start of 2019. Nearly 6,000 products — including electronics and other go-to gifts — will see price increases that, in time, are expected to pass from retailers to consumers.

And while it’s unlikely that the brunt of those price hikes will take a toll over the next few months, experts agree that the sheer concern over how long the tariffs will last, and to what degree, could act as a Grinch to holiday shoppers.

“Business doesn’t manage uncertainty well, nor does the consumer, and there is no way prices don’t get passed through the consumer,” said Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School. “The problem I have is, who knows on a day-to-day basis where this is headed?”

The retail industry is still optimistic. On Wednesday, the National Retail Federation announced it is expecting retail sales in November and December to increase between 4.3 and 4.8 percent over 2017 results, to as much as $720.89 billion. That forecast compares with an average annual increase of 3.9 percent over the past five years. (If Labor Day is any indicator, Americans spent a record $2 billion online then alone.)

But for comparison, holiday sales in 2017 rose 5.3 percent over the year before, totaling $687.87 billion, according to the NRF.

In mid-September, Deloitte anticipated retail holiday sales to increase 5 to 5.6 percent over last year’s shopping season — totaling at least $1.1 trillion between November and January. Rod Sides, leader of Deloitte’s U.S. retail and distribution practice, said shoppers are unlikely to make their shopping decisions based on geopolitical issues, such as global trade.

“A lot of it comes down to when they look in their checkbook or their pocket,” Sides said. “If they have a few extra dollars, whether it be the stock markets to the election to tariffs, it typically doesn’t trickle down.”

At the same time, retailers and industry groups have made their opposition to the tariffs clear. Last month, Walmart sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer cautioning that additional tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods would strike a blow. Walmart — the largest retailer in the country — wrote that the “immediate impact will be to raise prices on consumers and tax American businesses and manufacturers.” Target chief executive Brian Cornell said the company was “concerned about anything that would cause higher prices on everyday products for American families.”

That’s in concert with arguments from industry groups that say the tariffs will trigger price increases, even if not by this Thanksgiving or Christmas. The Retail Industry Leaders Association, an industry lobbying group, wrote to Lighthizer in September requesting the removal of more than 650 tariff lines from the proposed list of products subject to the latest wave of tariffs. Any tariffs on consumer goods proposed by Trump’s administration, the group wrote, are “nothing more than a hidden tax.”

Larger retailers have long since secured low-priced inventory to get them through the holidays and into the new year. But Hun Quach, vice president for international trade at RILA, noted that as the Chinese tariffs drag on, businesses large and small will be forced to restructure their supply chains. Changing the source on products as simple as plastic stickers can take as long as a year, she said.

“The pricing impact won’t hit immediately,” she said. “I think a lot of this uncertainty is about how long these tariffs are going to be in place.”

There’s also the question of whether retailers, embracing a strong economy and shoppers with money to spend, could increase prices anyway. But Cohen said that, even with signs pointing toward a strong holiday season, “the prospect of raising prices across the board is extremely problematic. There’s no getting away with that.”

Still, retailers will have to grapple with questions of when to time price increases on goods that will feel the full brunt of the tariffs at the start of 2019.

“Do you start to adjust prices now or do you wait until January?” Cohen said. “That’s a difficult decision.”

Mark Rosenbaum, department chair and professor of retailing at the University of South Carolina, said that many retailers placed their holiday-season orders over the summer, and that it would be unusual for them to alter the prices now because of the tariffs.

Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation, noted that many of the tariffs apply to goods that have “already been ordered, and have been shipped and are on their way.” The “precise effects of the tariffs are not yet completely clear,” but any impacts are likely to hit closer to the start of 2019. The tariffs may hit prices for jewelry by Valentine’s Day, for example, but that may be the earliest shoppers will feel a difference.

In the meantime, retailers and shoppers will have reason to stay merry.

“Thinking about the ability to spend — the data shows that we are in a good place,” Kleinhenz said. “The picture looks very good.”

U.S. retailer group sees 2018 holiday sales up more than 4 percent

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. holiday sales in 2018 will increase 4.3 percent to 4.8 percent boosted by a strong economy but will be slower than a year ago when consumer spending surged to a 12-year high, according to a forecast from a leading retail industry group.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) said holiday sales growth will be higher than an average increase of 3.9 percent over the past five years but slower than the 5.3 percent growth witnessed a year earlier when consumer spending grew the most since 2005 and was boosted by tax cuts.

“Last year’s strong results were thanks to growing wages, stronger employment and higher confidence, complemented by anticipation of tax cuts that led consumers to spend more than expected,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said.

“With this year’s forecast, we continue to see strong momentum from consumers as they do the heavy lifting in supporting our economy,” he said.

The combination of more jobs, improved wages, tamed inflation and an increase in net worth all provide the impetus to spend, he added.

The retail trade group said it expects sales for the last two months of the year between $717.45 billion and $720.89 billion, excluding autos, gasoline and dining out. Holiday sales in 2017 were $687.87 billion.

NRF’s forecast is one of the most closely watched benchmarks ahead of the holiday season, when retailers like Amazon.com Inc, Walmart Stores Inc and Target Corp generate an outsized portion of their profits and sales.

The last two months of the year can account for 20 percent to 40 percent of annual sales for many retailers.

The NRF forecast follows other estimates from companies like AlixPartners, which says sales will grow in between 3.1 percent and 4.1 percent as “2017 will be a tough year to follow.” Forecasts from companies like Deloitte and PwC expect holiday retail sales to grow around 5 percent.

NRF also said Wednesday that it expects seasonal employment by retailers to reach between 585,000 and 650,000 jobs, up from 582,500 in 2017.