DELOITTE SEES HOLIDAY SALES UP 2.5%-3%

NEW YORK — Consulting firm Deloitte said it expects small gains in 2011 holiday-season sales as retailers face tough comparisons with a year ago and a frugal consumer under ongoing economic pressure. The company said it projects sales increases of 2.5% to 3% for the months of November through January at retail stores, excluding auto sales and gasoline. That compares with growth of 5.9% during that period

NEW YORK — Consulting firm Deloitte said it expects “small gains” in 2011 holiday-season sales as retailers face tough comparisons with a year ago and a frugal consumer under ongoing economic pressure.

“As many holiday shoppers will be researching online and on their smartphones both before and during their trips to the store, retailers need to be sure their digital strategy is both flexible and focuses on a personalized experience this season.”

The company said it projects sales increases of 2.5% to 3% for the months of November through January at retail stores, excluding auto sales and gasoline. That compares with growth of 5.9% during that period a year ago.

Total retail sales for the three-month span of November through January are expected to total between $873 billion and $877 billion, vs. $852 billion in that period a year ago, Deloitte said, citing data from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“Consumer spending was on the rise for several months despite dampened confidence in the economy among U.S. households,” said Carl Steidtman, chief economist at Deloitte. “Those earlier gains have begun to flatten and may be tempered by persistent weakness in the housing and employment sectors and pressures from the European debt crisis.

“Despite some relief in energy prices, consumers may feel the strain from food, apparel and other categories where prices are markedly higher compared to the previous holiday season,” he added.

In addition, Deloitte has projected a 14% increase in non-store sales this holiday season, with nearly three fourths of that coming from the online channel and the rest from catalogs and interactive TV.

“Double-digit growth in the non-store channel has given the industry a major boost, and retailers that put online channels to work for their physical storefronts have the advantage,” said Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte, and leader of the firm's U.S. retail and distribution practice.