By Rieva Lesonsky

It’s going to be a good year for retailers, according to the latest announcement from the National Retail Federation (NRF). Last week NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay reviewed last year’s numbers: Retail (in-store) sales increased 3.9% and online (non-store) sales grew over 10%. The retail numbers beat the initial 2017 forecast of 3.2% to 3.8% sales growth. That’s in an economic climate that saw the U.S. economy grow less than 2%.

2018 will be an even better year. Retail sales are forecast to grow between 3.8% and 4.4%; online (non-store) sales are expected to see a 10% to 12% increase. (Note: These numbers do not include sales from automobiles, gas stations or restaurants.)

“Despite headlines to the contrary, the retail industry is strong, growing and meeting consumer demand with the products they want at the prices they expect and the shopping experience they want to have, online or in store,” Shay says. “With consumer confidence high, unemployment low and wages growing, there is every reason to believe that retail sales will be robust throughout the year.”

How to explain the positive outlook? NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz says, “The underpinnings of the economy are very good and consumer spending is at the center of our outlook. The push and pull of forces both external and internal to the U.S. economy will continue to provide challenges, but on balance we expect a good year.”

In a Q&A session with reporters after announcing the 2018 forecast, Shay and Kleinhenz predicted retailers will continue to be competitive and make investments. Shay says specialty apparel had a particularly good year in 2017.

While this is very good news, remember you can’t rely on positive consumer sentiment to drive people to your store. Consumers have more choices then ever when it comes to where they spend their retail dollars, so update your store, optimize your websites, make sure everything you do online is mobile-friendly, and provide consumers with a customer experience that exceeds their expectations.