Retail sales are projected to grow between 3.8% and 4.4% this year compared to 2017, according to a 2018 forecast released Thursday by the National Retail Federation.
That projected growth includes e-commerce, but online plus other non-store sales on their own are set to grow between 10% and 12%, the group also said. NRF defines non-store sales as including online sales, kiosks, catalogs, mail order and vending machines.
Retail sales — which exclude automobiles, gas stations and restaurants in the NRF's counting — grew 3.9% last year over 2016 to $3.53 trillion, according to the U.S. Census bureau's preliminary estimate for the year, NRF noted. That remains subject to revision but so far exceeds NRF's forecast, which was for growth between 3.2% and 3.8%.
Banner headlines about retail's troubles are overstated, considering the healthy holiday retail season, according to retail's largest trade organization. NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay called strong holiday sales "just one of many barometers" showing that consumers are "feeling positive about their financial health."
Consumer confidence is high, unemployment is low and wages are growing, Shay added. NRF's chief economist, Jack Kleinhenz, concurred, noting that consumer spending is "at the center of our outlook."
"The push and pull of forces both external and internal to the U.S. economy will continue to provide challenges, but on balance we expect a good year," Kleinhenz said in a statement.
In recent years, despite an increasingly healthy economy, consumer confidence has lagged behind wage and employment improvements, muting retailers' happiness. The holidays this year were different, increasing a record 4.9% this year, according to the Mastercard SpendingPulse report. It's the largest year-over-year increase since 2011 and an indication of solid consumer confidence, according to that report.
But consumer confidence may also be somewhat overstated, considering how over-leveraged many consumers are, according to a Consumer Financial Stress Index from legal services company LegalShield emailed to Retail Dive.
"Our data continues to indicate that consumers are right to feel good about their current financial situations and the overall economy in the first half of 2018, despite high consumer debt levels and a 12-year low in the personal savings rate," James Rosseau, LegalShield chief commercial officer, said in a statement. "The housing sector will be a key wild card to watch for the U.S. economy in 2018."