All signs point to the strongest holiday shopping season in years.
There have been long lines at stores, record sales online, and the usual December lull — when shoppers typically disappear after Black Friday only to return in the final days before Christmas — hasn’t been as quiet.
Retail consulting firm Customer Growth Partners raised its holiday sales forecast to 5.6 percent growth, up from 4.3 percent. If that pace holds, it would make 2017 the strongest holiday season since 2005, just prior to the Great Recession.
To be sure, not every retailer will come out crowned a winner this year, as certain sectors are struggling more than others to win dollars against internet giant Amazon, which is predicted to capture as much as 50 percent of all online holiday sales.
The true test will come as companies begin to report their quarterly earnings, which include holiday sales, after the New Year.
“Not all retail sectors have thrived … with women’s apparel retailers and sporting goods seeing sluggish sales at best,” CGP President Craig Johnson explained.
Some of the best growth is stemming from home improvement retailers, off-price chains and supercenters, according to his firm. That would include names like Home Depot, Lowe’s, TJ Maxx, Ross Stores, Best Buy and Walmart — notably all of which are typically situated off-mall and in their own strip center.
On Wednesday, heading into the final days before Christmas, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Ross all watched their stocks trade at all-time high levels.
At the malls, “department stores, while far lagging peak performance levels of many years ago, are more of a mixed bag, with better in-store traffic than dour expectations, along with improving online growth,” Johnson added.
Already falling victim to too much promotional activity, department store chain J.C. Penney warned in October that this holiday season would be another disappointment, slashing its 2017 profit and comparable sales forecasts. The company explained it had been discounting heavily ahead of the holidays to get rid of excess inventory.
Other mall stocks (including rivals Macy’s and Kohl’s) fell on the news, as investors have since feared this would become more of an industry-wide trend. Namely, Wall Street is still worried that some retail sectors aren’t ringing up enough purchases to cover hefty expenses related to markdowns, returns, packaging and shipping, and other last-minute mishaps.
Teen apparel retailer American Eagle Outfitters warned earlier this month that while it expects strong holiday earnings, fourth-quarter margins will likely be lower than a year ago, hampered by greater warehousing and shipping costs, and more promotions.
Meanwhile, companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Gap (with Old Navy and Athleta) have been pushing major store-wide sales, while names like Michael Kors and Urban Outfitters (with Anthropologie) appear to have tapered their deals, according to Jefferies analyst Randal Konik.
On a brighter note, the typical post-Black Friday lull hasn’t been as pronounced this year, Konik added, based on his firm’s latest mall checks. The traffic boost could help balance out apparel retailers’ heavier promotions in particular.
While store traffic spiked over Thanksgiving weekend, shoppers are still hanging around, he said, and consistently so, ahead of “Super Saturday” — the last weekend shopping day before Christmas.