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Black Friday - 5 reasons we're heading for a record holiday shopping season

Although leading retail forecasters can’t settle on an exact dollar amount, the consensus is already set: we’re going for a record holiday shopping season.

The National Retail Federation projects a growth rate between 3.4 to 4 percent in holiday purchasing over last year, hitting just over $967 per shopper for the first time. Deloitte estimates an even higher level, at nearly $1,226 per shopper.

Regardless of how high the number ends up, experts are following five conditions very closely that align to potentially drive 2017 holiday shopping sales to new record levels.

1. The economy is booming.

Since the drop in 2008 with the Great Recession, holiday spending has returned steadily every year, averaging 3.9 percent annual growth since 2010.

That looks to continue this year in a robust economy. The unemployment rate dropped to 4.1 percent in October, which also harkens to levels not seen in more than a decade.

It’s no wonder Deloitte also reported that 81 percent of its recent survey respondents noted their financial situation was the same or better than last year.

2. 32 days of Christmas.

It doesn’t hurt to have a little help from the calendar this year as well. With Thanksgiving falling on Nov. 23, shoppers have one more day and an extra full weekend to mark every item off their list and then some.

Retailers are always looking for ways get the attention of shoppers by tying in with events on the calendar. Once again this year they’ll be featuring last-minute deals that cater to procrastinators, especially during that last full shopping weekend before Christmas, an extra this year that should benefit everyone.

3. Online shopping rises.

For the first time, online shopping for the holiday season is projected to outpace in-store shopping. Last year, Deloitte’s survey highlighted an equal share of shopping between the two options, but this year respondents expect to spend 51 percent of their budget online compared to 42 percent in-store.

We’ve seen it coming for the past several years, but the truth of the matter is that it’s now here.

For many, the in-store experience can still be an enjoyable one. A significant number of consumers still like the idea of using all five of their senses when shopping. Nothing provides a better opportunity than being in stores during the holidays (Black Friday stampedes notwithstanding).

But the crowds of the holiday season are a reality and online shopping provides a convenient alternative. For years, retailers have tried to maximize the online experience for shoppers. Today it appears we have hit that tipping point.  

4. Retail therapy.

Let’s face it, 2017 has been a pretty brutal year. The recent months have brought devastating hurricanes, shootings, terrorism and an incredibly divisive political climate.

People everywhere are feeling the hurt and looking for comfort to close out an emotionally draining year. Finding it by sharing love with family and friends, in part through holiday gift- giving, can be just the right therapy for a year like this.

While those feelings of comfort and joy may last only a few weeks, they can still bring a sense of peace and calm into an incredibly tumultuous society.

5. People buying for themselves.

Finally, as selfless as many are in their holiday shopping, it’s hard not to pick up a little something for yourself along the way.

Forty-four percent of respondents in the Deloitte research noted that they wait for holiday sales to make certain purchases for themselves, and 50 percent specifically shop for themselves while looking for others.

The holiday season gives us an excuse to pamper and treat ourselves. At a time when we are interested in looking out for others, it’s quite natural for many to look inward and treat themselves as well.   

Roger L. Beahm is professor of marketing and WestRock executive director of the Center for Retail Innovation at Wake Forest University School of Business in Winston-Salem, N.C.