NRF: Expect a Big Holiday Sales Season

If you rely on the holiday season for a substantial portion of your annual revenue, the National Retail Federation has an early gift for you. According to data released by the industry group, it expects retail sales for all sectors, excluding autos, gas, and restaurants, to increase 4.1 percent to a total of $616.9 billion this holiday season. The estimate handily beats last year’s 3.1 percent rise and the 10-year average gain of 2.9 percent.

Online sales should see an even larger uptick., the NRF’s digital retail arm, projects online holiday sales to rise between 8 and 11 percent this season.

Consumers spent an average of $767.27 during the holidays, with gifts for family members comprising $432, or 56 percent of the total. The candy and food category trailed a distant second with $104.34 of the total.

When to Get Started?

When should you kick your holiday efforts into high gear? According to the NRF’s 2014 Holiday Survival Guide [PDF], most consumers started their holiday shopping in November, but getting an early jump may pay off. More than 40 percent of consumers started shopping before Halloween.

If you wait until December, you might be a little late. Only 16 percent begin shopping in early December and 4 percent during the last two weeks of the month.

Are Black Friday and Cyber Monday still giant shopping days? Last year, Black Friday sales were up 3.5 percent from the year prior. The day after Black Friday, sales were down 8.3 percent. They declined by 11 percent on Sunday. However, shopping on Thanksgiving Day increased nearly 27 percent from 2012. Data clearly show an appetite for Thanksgiving Day shopping.

Online shopping around Thanksgiving was robust last year. Forty-seven percent of consumers said they shopped online on Black Friday last year, and more than 131 million people said they would shop online for Cyber Monday.

Making the Most of 2014 Holiday Sales

With these NRF numbers as a backdrop, what can you do to ensure your holiday season sales are as robust as possible? Try these six tips:

  1. Advertise online: According to data from Google, traffic on online merchant sites during the holiday season doubled from 2012. Data also showed that shoppers began searching for Black Friday deals one week earlier than in 2012, and this year, July search traffic sent to merchants was higher than last year’s peak holiday traffic. If they don’t find you when they search, somebody else may get their business.
  2. Provide detailed product information: Shoppers are savvy. Each of your customers will spend between 10 and 16 hours researching their holiday purchases. Your website should provide all information, including strong images, clear pricing information, and shipping policies in an easy-to-find location. Take the same approach in your physical location.
  3. Learn from past inventory glitches: If the NRF is right, you will see a substantial uptick in sales. If you ran out of inventory last year, make slightly more aggressive adjustments to account for NRF projections. And don’t forget to load up on the impulse or add-on items.
  4. Use the holidays as a time to move old inventory: Don’t wait until after the holiday season to address excess inventory. Instead, use the season to move stale inventory that has been in the store all year.
  5. Tidy up the place: Are there light bulbs that need to be replaced? Is your sign a little dirty? What if they come looking for you but can’t find you after dark? Now is the time to do all of the maintenance that you’ve been putting off. And don’t forget technology maintenance, including software and hardware updates and POS enhancements.
  6. Make your employee schedule now: If the season turns out to be big, you need enough people on the floor and fulfilling online orders to give your customers a superior experience. They don’t want to wait in long lines any more than you would.
  7. Don't forget about mobile device users: If online shopping increases double digits, you can be sure that a significant portion of those sales will originate on a mobile device. According to the NRF, last year 25 million people made purchases on a mobile device on Cyber Monday. Designing your site to look great on a computer is important, but be sure users have an enjoyable mobile experience as well.

Author: Tim Parker

Tim Parker is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.