Two Friends Christmas Shopping

The unofficial start of the holiday shopping season is upon us.

No longer a one-day dash for doorbusters, retail watchers now count the five days between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday .

The upcoming holiday season presents a mixed bag for retailers, analysts say. Consumers feel pretty good about their finances. Wages have inched up and the unemployment rate is hovering near a 50-year low.

But an undercurrent of uncertainty exists, with hints of a recession and the lingering overhang of tariffs and a trade war. A late Thanksgiving could put pressure on retail growth, and promotions may cut into profits.

The 2019 holiday could mark retailers’ first ever trillion-dollar shopping season, according to a number of market research firms, including Deloitte and eMarketer.

Deloitte forecasts a bump in sales as high as 5% compared with last year. The nation’s largest retail industry group, the National Retail Federation , expects consumers to spend an average of $1,048 during the holiday shopping season. NRF’s crystal ball readers predict a 4.2% increase at the high end.

Consumer buying patterns can be flickery. Last year’s holiday sales came in below forecasts, growing by 2.1% to $686 billion, as a government shutdown, rising trade tensions and a late-December stock market plunge merged into a trifecta that spooked consumers.

Even with double-digit growth in e-commerce and shifting attitudes to seek out experiences over stuff, most researchers say the extended Black Friday weekend has not lost its luster.

A turn of the calendar leaves six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. The compressed time frame could weigh on retailers’ profit potential as it robs them of that extra weekend of potential sales. But consumers could see more deals . More than half of retailers surveyed by RetailMeNot and Kelton said they plan to offer deeper discounts than usual. Most began running deals earlier this year.

The real battlefront is delivery. Free shipping trumps fast shipping by a more than 5 to 1 margin, Deloitte researchers found.

Most consumers want it all: free and speedy. The divide between retailers that have invested in logistics and those that haven’t will widen.

Amazon continues to sacrifice short-term profits in a bid for long-term customer loyalty. In the third quarter, shipping costs rose 46%, or $3 billion, compared to last year.

Once , malls could count on a flurry of last-minute shoppers. But the convenience of online shopping has led to a plunge in procrastination.

In 2011, last-minute accounted for more than a third of shoppers. This year, fewer than 20% planned to start late. It’s the “new normal” of the holiday shopping season, the NPD report asserts.

Copyright 2019 Tribune Content Agency.

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