NEW YORK — The nation’s largest retail trade group expects retail sales will increase at a slightly faster pace this year than last as continued improvements in jobs and housing should help shoppers feel more confident about spending.
The Washington-based National Retail Federation said it expects retail sales will rise 4.1 percent to $3.24 trillion in 2014. That’s higher than the preliminary 3.7 percent rise in 2013 and above the average growth rate of 3.6 percent over the previous 10 years.
The trade group’s retail sales forecast for the year includes online sales but excludes business from autos, gas stations and restaurants. Online sales are expected to be up anywhere from 9 percent to 12 percent this year, the trade group said.
The group’s outlook comes as stores are still reeling from a difficult holiday season where they had to discount heavily to get shoppers to spend. The slow economic recovery, a stubbornly high unemployment rate and fierce competition from online retailers like Amazon.com forced traditional retailers to discount heavily just to get people in the door.
That weakness continued through January as heavy winter storms raking the United States cut into store traffic and weighed on post-holiday sales. Chains including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, reduced their profit outlooks. More evidence of a difficult January came on Wednesday and Thursday when many of the 10 retailers that still report monthly sales said a key sale metric declined last month. Cato Corp., a women’s clothing chain, teen retailer Zumiez Inc. and accessories chain The Buckle Inc. were among the retailers that reported a drop in revenue at stores opened at least a year, considered a key indicator of a retailer’s health.