National forecasts cloudy

National forecasts for holiday sales depend on who’s making the forecasts. Here’s a look at the major projections:

The National Retail Federation projects retail sales during November and December in the United States will total more than $602 billion, a 3.9 percent increase over those two months last year. The latest forecast exceeds the 3.3 percent average annual growth in holiday sales over the past decade.

“In order for consumers to turn out this holiday season, we need to see steady improvements in income and job growth as well as an agreement from Washington that puts the economic recovery first,” says Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist of the NRF, a global trade association. “Our forecast leaves room for improvement, while at the same time provides a very realistic look at the state of the American consumer and their confidence in the economy.”

The NRF bases its closely watched forecast on such criteria as consumer confidence, consumer credit, disposable personal income and past retail sales.

Online sales in the U.S. during November and December are expected to increase 13 percent to 15 percent over last year to $82 billion, according to, a division of the NRF.

“Online and mobile continue to be a leading area of growth for retailers,” says Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer of the NRF.

“In this economy, cost-conscious consumers go to the web to do their research and get the best bang for their buck. In addition to researching what their peers are saying online about products and gifts this holiday season, consumers will use the buy online pick up in store option, retailers’ apps and mobile websites to find something special for their loved ones.”

n U.S. households will spend an average of $498 on gifts this holiday season, down from $521 last year, according to the latest results of an annual survey conducted by the Conference Board.

While about 10 percent of consumers responding to the survey expect to spend more on holiday gifts, 32 percent plan to spend less.

“Despite the recent government shutdown and debt crises, consumers are in relatively good spirits as the holiday season approaches,” says Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the Conference Board, a business research and membership group. “In keeping with holiday trends, consumers will be seeking bargains and incentives. And an increasing number say they plan to shop online this season.”

More than 30 percent of consumers expect more than half of their holiday purchases to be on sale or discounted. Nearly 70 percent of consumers anticipate purchasing a portion of their holiday gifts online, and about 22 percent plan to purchase more than half their gifts online.

While 13 percent of U.S. consumers plan to shop for holiday gifts on Thanksgiving, 46 percent of consumers expect to shop on Black Friday, according to a national poll commissioned by the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs.

On Cyber Monday, 42 percent of consumers responding to the poll anticipate shopping online.

“The expansion of the Thanksgiving bargain-shopping days to include Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday has transformed this period with more intensive shopping planned for Black Friday this year than at any time since at least 2009, when this survey began,” says Michael Niemira, vice president of research and chief economist for the ICSC.