As Thanksgiving celebrations get under way today, stores are anxious to boost sales
As Americans sit down to platefuls of roast turkey today, online retailers in the United States are hoping for a Thanksgiving holiday treat to rival the US$37.2 billion (Dh136.64bn) gift they got last year.
E-commerce is expected to grow strongly this holiday season, spurred by early online deals, the rise of mobile devices and more offers of free shipping, retailers say.
"It's still early but our sense is that we will have a really positive holiday season," Joel Anderson, the head of Walmart.com, the online business of Wal-Mart Stores, said yesterday.
ComScore said it expected online sales to grow by 15 to 18 per cent in the US this holiday season. Last year, holiday e-commerce spending rose 15 per cent to a record $37.2bn, according to the firm.
Doug Anmuth, an analyst at JPMorgan, said he expected online purchases in the fourth quarter to top 10 per cent of total US retail spending for the first time.
Wal-Mart forecasts 600 million online visitors during its holiday quarter, which runs from November through January.
That is up 13 per cent from the same period last year, according to Mr Anderson.
"We're still on forecasts and off to a good start," he added.
Thanksgiving and the days following, which include what is traditionally the busiest online shopping day, Cyber Monday, are more important this year as retailers lure consumers with earlier promotions.
Cyber Monday online spending is forecast to jump 30 per cent this year, versus growth of 22 per cent last year, according to ComScore data.
Last year, Cyber Monday was the busiest online shopping day, with $1.25bn in sales, it said.
Retailers are offering more free shipping for online purchases. Between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of online transactions this holiday will come with free shipping, said Shawn Milne, an analyst at Janney Capital Markets.
Retailers across the board will find out this weekend if concern over the so-called fiscal cliff and possible tax increases has subdued shoppers' sentiment.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicted holiday sales would rise 4.1 per cent to an estimated $586.1bn this year, compared with a 5.6 per cent gain last year. Some 147 million consumers, or 5 million fewer than last year, plan to hit the malls this weekend, according to an NRF survey conducted by BIGresearch.
"We hear these guys on cable television with eerie music, talking about doom and gloom," Mortimer Singer, the chief executive of the consulting firm Marvin Traub Associates, said yesterday.
"Consumers get nervous when this kind of stuff happens."
But retailers will benefit from the maximum number of days possible - 32 - between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, said Roseanne McCauley, the vice president of the Americas for Experian FootFall, which tracks traffic and other data for retailers.
"People have two more paycheques coming in before the end of the month," she said.
Adding a sales day from Thanksgiving "is going to absolutely increase volume" for retailers, enabling them to stick to their planned schedule of markdowns, Ms McCauley said.
But while Americans tuck into their celebratory dinners today, it may be prudent for them to think about freezing the leftovers.
Food prices are expected to rise next year, sparked by the country's worst drought in more than half a century.
The dry conditions sent corn futures to a record and wheat prices to the highest in four years .
Next year, retail poultry prices are projected to increase as much as 4 per cent, the US department of agriculture said.
Christopher Hurt, a livestock economist at Purdue University in Indiana, said the effects of the prolonged dry period were yet to be fully felt.
"We haven't seen the full adjustment from the drought yet.
"That takes time"
* compiled from Bloomberg News, Reuters and AFP