A healthy start to the holiday season bodes well for Inland Northwest retailers, potentially creating some ripples that will benefit other sectors.
As Journal staffer Katie Ross reports in this edition, the National Retail Federation is predicting holiday sales to increase at the greatest rate in years, and local retailers have entered the Christmas shopping season with similar expectations.
Optimism manifested itself with an uptick in holiday hiring in Spokane County, with many business owners adding staff well in advance of Thanksgiving in preparation for a rush that’s projected to be bigger than in past years.
Doug Tweedy, a regional economist with the Washington state Employment Security Department, expects business in the retail, leisure, and hospitality trades to add 1,200 more jobs this year during the holiday season than they did during the same period last year. Through November, job growth in those industries was tracking right along with that projection.
While it would be more ideal to see permanent, full-time jobs added at a brisker pace, it’s encouraging to see more people finding work this time of year than in past years.
The anticipated increase in sales and influx of employment comes in a shopping season that’s shorter than most. With Thanksgiving falling on Nov. 27 this year, there’s less than a month between it and Christmas. In leaner years, retailers have looked forward to having five weekends between the holidays, extending the shopping season and the prospect of greater sales. It’s encouraging to see sales projections increasing despite the somewhat narrower window of opportunity.
The increased sales also are projected at brick-and-mortar stores despite a much larger increase in online retail sales. While the National Retail Federation is projecting a 4.1 percent increase in overall sales nationally, the surge in online commerce is expected to be double that. The organization’s online division, Shop.org, is expecting online sales to increase by between 8 percent and 11 percent this year, compared with the 2013 holiday season. While brick-and-mortar isn’t growing at that pace, it is growing alongside the online market.
As sales grow, sales-tax revenues increase, helping local governments. The public sector was one of the last to feel the effects of the Great Recession, and while sales-tax revenue aren’t the most important effect of stronger retail sales, it’s good to see more in public coffers.
More sales, more jobs, and more optimism from retail managers and shop owners all are rooted in greater consumer confidence. That confidence has been slow to build after the Great Recession, but it appears to have returned to a great degree, along with a strong stock market, a healthier real estate market, and a sustained—for now—low-interest rate environment.
The stuff we buy is far less important than the time we spend with family and friends, as well as reflection about what we’re celebrating. But the increased activity is indicative of better times. We all can raise a glass of eggnog in a toast to that.
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