- Retail sales during the holiday season could rise 7% to 9%, according to the latest projections from Deloitte.
- In total, sales could reach up to $1.3 trillion. Deloitte projects e-commerce sales could grow 11% to 15% year over year, or up to $218 billion.
- The growth would come on top of last year's 5.8% increase in holiday sales, which beat Deloitte's expectations for the season.
Sales for the 2020 holiday season came as a surprise to many. This time last year, Deloitte hedged its numbers as the industry headed into a gravely uncertain season, with COVID-19 surging dangerously through the course of the fall. The firm released a "K-shaped" projection that split its estimates into worst-case and better-case scenarios.
Actual sales for the season beat even Deloitte's best-case estimates, along with those of plenty of other groups (among them CBRE, AlixPartners, the National Retail Federation and the International Council of Shopping Centers.)
As Deloitte's "K" model suggested, analysts knew well the difficulties of predicting demand in 2020, after COVID-19, consumers and financial markets all proved patently unpredictable.
Retail sales likely got a significant bump during the holidays from consumer spending shifts away from experiences during the pandemic, as well as a surge in digital and omnichannel sales. Retailers who did well nudged consumers to shop earlier in the season and make use of alternative shopping channels. Also at play during the holidays was a general desperation in the population at that time to gin up a little merriment and normalcy after an almost universally stressful and anxious year.
This year, consumers broadly are doing even better, as are individual retailers. Consumers are flush with cash, and the large majority of U.S. adults have been at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19. The delta variant of the disease has cast a shadow, but so far has not dramatically changed the trajectory of the industry. Shoppers proved last year they can keep spending on gifts and themselves even during a pandemic.
"While consumer concerns about health and safety have eased since the last holiday season, pandemic-influenced shopping behaviors continue to gain traction," Rod Sides, Deloitte's sector leader for U.S. retail and distribution, said in a press release. "Retailers who remain resilient to shifting consumer behaviors and offer convenient options for online and in-store shopping, as well as order fulfillment, will be poised for growth this holiday season, and into the new year."
Going into the holidays, retailers' big challenge is likely not demand for but the supply of goods, amid widespread supply chain and shipping bottlenecks that retail executives have said are eating into their profit margins and disrupting inventory supplies.