Holiday forecast for 2011: “Average”

Retailers that enjoyed robust sales during the 2010 holiday season should not expect a repeat performance, according to a forecast from the National Retail Federation (NRF). The Washington, D.C., trade organization predicted a 2.8% increase this year, totaling $465.6 billion. In 2010, holiday retail sales rose 5.2% over the previous year, according to the NRF. The 10-year average holiday sales increase is 2.6%.

“Just when you think the U.S. economy is turning around, another factor comes into play that changes the game,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. “Persistently high unemployment, an erratic stock market, modest income growth and rising consumer prices are all combining to impact spending this holiday season. How Americans will react to shaky economic data is the question, but the good news for retailers is that shoppers have not yet thrown in the towel.”

For the first time this year, NRF used its holiday forecasting model to create a projection for seasonal hiring in retail. According to the NRF, retailers are expected to hire between 480,000 and 500,000 seasonal workers this holiday season, which is comparable with the 495,000 seasonal employees they hired last year. While most retailers bring in additional employees during the holiday season to account for an uptick in traffic and sales, retailers have also been hiring throughout the last year: Since last August, the retail industry has added nearly 100,000 jobs.