Retailers preparing for Christmas are optimistic about sales and consumers' buying power despite signs of a slowing economy and the impact of tariffs.
The National Retail Federation said Thursday it expects holiday sales to rise by as much as 4.2% this year, twice as fast as in 2018. An industry representative in Connecticut said business locally will likely track the national increase.
"Overall, we're in a pretty good place in terms of getting ready for the holiday season," said Tim Phelan, president of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association. "Consumer confidence seems to be pretty good."
Black Friday, the traditional kickoff to the Christmas shopping season on the day after Thanksgiving, is Nov. 29.
The National Retail Federation said it expects holiday retail sales during November and December to increase between 3.8% and 4.2% over 2018, to between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion. The numbers, which exclude automobile dealers, gas stations and restaurants, compare with an average holiday sales increase of 3.7% over the previous five years.
That includes online and other nonstore sales, which the retail group expects to increase by 11% to 14% over last year, to between $162.6 billion and $166.9 billion.
Matthew Shay, president of the retail group, said the U.S. economy is slowing due to "considerable uncertainty around issues including trade, interest rates, global risk factors and political rhetoric."
Still, he said, consumers "are in good financial shape, and retailers expect a strong holiday season."
Connecticut's sluggish economy and slow-growth labor force are possible brakes on consumer spending, but Phelan is optimistic. Uncertainties, such as tariffs and "the impacts of some things in Connecticut that have different vibes," will make it unclear "where we're going to land," he said.
But consumers "will get out and shop for the holiday season," Phelan said.
Nationally, the impact of tariffs remains unknown, Shay said. Some items such as apparel, footwear and televisions are subject to tariffs that took effect Sept. 1, and other products will have tariffs applied on Dec. 15.
Spokeswoman Amanda Sirica said Westfarms mall in West Hartford expects "very strong holiday sales." Retailers are hiring and bringing in merchandise, she said.
In preparation for holiday shoppers, Macy's will hire an additional 2,000 workers to help with online orders at the department store's fulfillment center in Cheshire. Overall, the retailer said it plans to hire about 80,000 seasonal workers for jobs at its Macy's and Bloomingdale's stores, call centers and distribution and fulfillment centers for the holiday season.
Macy's said it's offering full-time, part-time and flexible positions "in anticipation of a busy holiday shopping season."
Patrick Flaherty, an economist at the state Department of Labor, said Christmas season hiring in Connecticut is "holding steady."
"That's still happening every year, even with the advent of online shopping," he said.
Retail jobs in Connecticut rose by 300 in August, to 175,500. Overall, retail jobs in Connecticut have fallen from nearly 195,000 in 2008 before the start of the Great Recession. The number of jobs increased to about 185,000 in 2016.
In contrast, Flaherty said the state has been "seeing a nice increase in warehousing" as delivery of products bought and sold online take off. Transportation, warehousing and utilities jobs have increased to about 55,000 this year, up from fewer than 45,000 in 2010, after the recession ended.
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