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Holiday sales to rise 1.0% to 2.6% but over a longer period than in years past

The traditional November to December holiday shopping season is meaningless this year — and perhaps forever.

 That’s according to AlixPartners, whose annual retail holiday sales forecast included, for the first time, the month of October in addition to the standard November and December. The consulting firm’s forecast for the upcoming October-through-December holiday season is an increase in sales of 1.0- to 2.6% over the same three-month period last year, when sales totaled $1.132 trillion.

In addition, the firm’s survey, an annual poll of more than 1,000 consumers, showed that 49% of consumers plan to start holiday shopping by Halloween or earlier, up seven percentage points from last year’s survey. 

AlixPartners’ forecast for this newly defined October-through-December holiday season is an increase in sales of 1.0 to 2.6% over the same three-month period last year, when sales totaled $1.132 trillion. 

“The traditional November-December holiday-season definition is meaningless this year—and, I would argue, for the future as well,” said Joel Bines, global co-leader of the retail practice at AlixPartners and a managing director of the firm. “For years now, holiday sales have been pulled forward earlier and earlier, thanks mostly to the explosion in online shopping. This, in turn, has led to such things as the diminishment of Black Friday, of door-buster sales and of many other traditions.”

The pandemic, Bines continued, has accelerated what was well on its way to happening anyway. 

“The question now for retailers is whether and how fast they can adapt to this disrupted new world,” he said. “Our recommendation is to move practical digital transformation coupled with rigorous cost control to the very top of the agenda, because ‘the future,’ ready or not, is right now.”

The AlixPartners survey also found that 45% of Americans plan to do the majority of their holiday shopping online, up 15% from last year.

Among all those polled in the survey, the top retail categories where consumers plan to spend the same or more this season were apparel (cited by 80%), toys (77%), footwear (75%), and electronics & video games (74%).  

“In addition to online sales likely breaking records this holiday season, so too will curbside and in-store pickups,” said Sonia Lapinsky, a managing director in the retail practice at AlixPartners. “This means that agility will be essential for retailers across their entire ecosystem. As consumers are shopping in new ways more than ever, retailers need to break down silos across their organizations and create a seamless experience across all shopping channels.”

Lapinsky advised that the move of Amazon Prime Day this year from July to this fall, and the advent of other promotions means that retailers need to be readier than ever to make quick, real-time adjustments.

“As our forecast implies, this holiday season could be a tough one for retailers overall,” said Alexa Driansky, a senior VP in the retail practice at AlixPartners and one of the contributors to this year’s forecast and survey. “Overall, the amount of uncertainty out there is unprecedented. The winners in this environment will be those who can quickly adapt to the dramatic channel-shift playing out right now and leverage the resulting increased data to drive decisions that create a seamless and safe customer experience.”

The AlixPartners US Retail Holiday-Sales Forecast is based on proprietary AlixPartners methodology and was first instituted in 2012. All its numbers are seasonally adjusted, and it covers core retail sales, which exclude motor vehicles, fuel, and restaurants and drinking establishments.

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