November 17, 2017

Retail sales boost eyed for holidays

Flickr/Herry Lawford
Retailers expect a busy holiday shopping season.

Sometimes timing is everything. Massachusetts retailers are buoyant about the impending holiday shopping season, heartened by a favorable calendar that gives shoppers five full shopping weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The Retailers Association of Massachusetts is estimating a retail sales increase of 3.1 percent over the same period in 2016, based on year-to-date trends and a survey of 4,000 member businesses.

"Massachusetts retailers are prepared for the 2017 holiday sales season, and they are optimistic that the sales trends for the year to date will continue, albeit with tighter margins and profitability," RAM President Jon Hurst said in a statement sent ahead of RAM's 99th annual meeting in Waltham on Thursday.

Holiday retail sales took a hit in 2016, dropping 1 percent even while national sales increased 4 percent. Again in 2017, RAM is projecting a sales increase less than the national estimate. The National Retail Federation is expecting a national sales increase of 3.6 percent to 4 percent.

November and December retail sales in Massachusetts are expected to total about $17 billion, RAM said, and the holiday sales season represents an average of almost 20 percent of annual retail sales.

This shopping season could be a good one for consumers as retailers try to lure shoppers with deals as they compete against online commerce for consumers who this season have a high level of confidence.

"Given a very competitive marketplace, consumers will once again enjoy an environment of extensive promotions and value from a multitude of shopping options," Hurst said.

RAM urged Massachusetts consumers to dedicate some of their shopping budgets towards local retailers and to "shop like jobs depend on it, because they do."

As shoppers hit the mall this holiday season, the Senate Task Force on Strengthening Massachusetts Local Retailers will be holding listening sessions to gather information on the retail sector and the challenges presented by the ubiquity of online commerce.

RAM said online holiday sales are expected to increase by 10 percent this year, hitting $109 billion nationally and accounting for 16 percent to 18 percent of total holiday sales. The internet will be the most popular shopping destination for 59 percent of shoppers, RAM said.

The task force took shape earlier this fall as RAM prepares to move forward with a potential 2018 ballot question reducing the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent and instituting an annual sales tax holiday, an idea the Legislature has supported over the years but not with consistency.

Competing against tax-free sellers in New Hampshire and online, store owners have had to budget in a minimum wage increase, rising health care costs and some of the highest energy costs in the United States. And activists are gearing up to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour via the 2018 ballot.

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