TECHNOLOGY

NRF: Holiday sales to increase 3.6% to 4%

BY Marianne Wilson

One of the most closely watched holiday forecasts has good news for retailers.

The National Retail Federation said it expects holiday retail sales in November and December to increase between 3.6% and 4% for a total of $678.75 billion to $682 billion. In 2016, up from $655.8 billion last year. The NRF forecast, which excludes automobiles, gasoline and restaurants, would meet or exceed last year’s growth of 3.6% and the five-year average of 3.5%.

The calendar is expected to give retailers a holiday boost. Christmas falls 32 days after Thanksgiving this year, one day more than last year. The holiday is also on a Monday (as opposed to Sunday last year), giving consumers an extra weekend day for shopping.

“Consumers continue to do the heavy lifting in supporting our economy, and all the fundamentals are aligned for them to continue doing so during the holidays,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. "the combination of job creation, improved wages, tame inflation and an increase in net worth all provide the capacity and the confidence to spend.”

NRF’s forecast follows holiday estimates from Deloitte and AlixPartners, which estimate holiday season sales growth between 3.8% and 4.5%, fueled by higher online spending and a tightening job market.

With retail employment already up recently, retailers are seeing less of a need to hire seasonal workers for the holidays this year, according to the NRF. It expects retailers to hire between 500,000 and 550,000 temporary workers this holiday season, down from last year’s 575,000.

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Study: Retailers cutting prices to compete with online players

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Online-only retailers may be taking a toll on omnichannel companies, but traditional companies are finding ways to fight back.

This was according to “Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Fight Back: Winning Strategies to Compete with Online-Only Players,” a report from Applied Predictive Technologies (APT).

In response to price pressure from online-only rivals, 44% of respondents have cut prices, and 12% plan to do so in the coming years. Among the retailers who have closed stores but successfully recouped revenue, almost three-quarters (72%) implemented price cuts.

Ready to face online competition head-on, three-quarters of respondents (75%) have increased their investment in online channels. The majority of retailers (68%) have responded to the infinite inventory of the Internet by expanding their product selection.

Meanwhile, 70% are training employees to be more knowledgeable, and more customer service-focused (58%). And 54% have introduced loyalty programs, and 24% plan to do so in the future

“In such a competitive environment, it is critical that brick-and-mortar retailers not just adapt, but adapt smartly,” said Jonathan Marek, senior VP, APT.

“With so many initiatives to try across so many different areas of the business, those that can most quickly and effectively implement winning ideas will be the victors in the age of e-commerce,” he added. “While there are many methods retailers can use to inform decision-making, in particular, findings show that among the respondents that leverage scientific testing to evaluate new ideas, 60% have either not closed stores as a result of online competition, or have recouped more than half of sales lost from store closures.”

To stay competitive in an increasingly digital marketplace, APT suggests retailers adopt the following four key strategies:

&bull Make your store associates core to the in-store experience

&bull Use customer insights to drive incremental profits, not just offer promotions

&bull Take A surgical approach to store closures and remodels

&bull Focus on measuring everything across channels

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Target launches drive-up pilot

BY Marianne Wilson

Target Corp. is testing curbside pickup in its home base.

The discounter has launched the service, called Drive Up, at its stores in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The retailer described the program as the latest example of how Target is using its stores as hubs to help customers shop “on their own terms.”

Here’s how it works: After placing an order in the Target app and selecting “Drive Up,” Target notifies customers when the order is ready to be picked up. Customers hit the “I’m on My Way” button en route to their store, park in a designated spot, and then a Target employee brings the order out to their car.

“Drive Up is our latest effort to make it easier and faster for busy guests to conveniently get what they need, and simply get back to their day,” said Dawn Block, Target senior VP of digital.

More than 200,000 items, including home furnishings, toys, electronics, household essentials, non-perishable food, and baby-care, are eligible for the service. Produce and refrigerated or frozen items are not eligible, the StarTribune reported, and no minimum order is required for the free service.

The Drive Up program was built in house by Target.

“It’s a test-and-learn program, so we’ll continue to fine-tune and enhance the experience, and will look to expand to more guests in the future,” Target stated.

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