In person or online, holiday shopping off to encouraging start

Where are shoppers spending their money this holiday season? Inside actual, honest-to-goodness brick and mortar stores or in virtual stores on the internet?

All of the above, according to businesses and organizations tracking the trends. The news is generally promising for retailers in the midst of what for many of them is the most wonderful time of the year.

According to the results of a survey conducted by American Express and the National Federation of Independent Business, U.S. consumers reported spending a total of an estimated $17.8 billion at independent retailers and restaurants on Small Business Saturday, a record for the event the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Counting the latest numbers, spending on Small Business Saturday has reached a total of an estimated $103 billion since the day began in 2010.

An estimated 70 percent of U.S. adults said they’re aware of Small Business Saturday. Among consumers who participated in Small Business Saturday this year, 42 percent reported shopping with family and friends and 83 percent said they’d encouraged others to shop and dine at local establishments.

What about Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving? According to one estimate by Adobe Insights, sales were on pace to hit $7.8 billion. That would make it the largest online shopping day in U.S. history.

The National Retail Federation expects holiday retail sales in November and December — excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants — to increase between 4.3 and 4.8 percent in 2018 over 2017 for a total of more than $717 billion. That number includes sales in stores and online.

The latest forecast compares with an average annual increase of 3.9 percent over the past five years. Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the NRF, said the outlook reflects the combination of more jobs, higher wages and an increase in net worth that provides consumers both the capacity and confidence to spend.

Even as online retailers offer selection and convenience — along with, increasingly, free shipping — brick-and-mortar retailers differentiate their operations with unique merchandise and customer service delivered up close and personal. Here’s something else to think about, though: According to the Small Business Saturday survey, 41 percent of consumers reported shopping online at websites operated by small businesses.

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