holiday sales
Open sign hanging on store door

Projected weak holiday sales mean more competition than ever.

By Rieva Lesonsky

The busy holiday shopping season is rapidly approaching. But new research from Mintel might put a damper on your holiday spirit. The research firm projects U.S. retail sales (excluding cars) for November and December will grow a mere 1.3 percent from last year—hitting $692 billion. This, says Mintel, is the slowest growth rate since at least 2006.

Why the partly cloudy outlook? Mintel’s Diana Smith, the Associate Director, Retail and Apparel, says while there are “encouraging indicators,” such as “high consumer confidence, low unemployment rates, low gas prices, and [two] extra shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Mintel expects “a significant slowdown” driven partly by consumer concerns about the presidential election and the global economy.

There is a sunny part of the forecast—an increase in online (and other non-store) shopping. In fact, 74 percent of consumers and 88 percent of Millennials plan to do at least half their shopping online, and 37 percent of Millennials want to do all their holiday shopping online.

If you’re a retailer and want to grab your share of the holiday pie, you need to be in the ecommerce game. If you can’t get your act together in time (though check out Shopify—that’s an affiliate link), make sure your website highlights what can be found in your store, since 37 percent of consumers will research products online before going to a store to buy them.

Mintel warns you can’t wait for Black Friday. Consumers are shopping early, with 46 percent starting before Thanksgiving and 53 percent shopping for holiday gifts year round.

Online shoppers are looking for free shipping (63 percent), free gifts with purchase (43 percent), online promotions (40 percent), fast delivery (38 percent), exclusive special offers (34 percent) and free gift wrapping (22 percent).