Florida retailers can expect a holly jolly shopping season, with a sales increase of 5.2 percent over last year, the Florida Retail Federation said Thursday.
"Shoppers in Florida are in a buying mood, and that's good news for the whole economy," said federation president and CEO Rick McAllister.
In a teleconference with reporters, McAllister said Florida outpaces other areas thanks to its strong tourism base. Holiday shopping sales are forecast to rise about 4 percent nationwide. Last year, Florida predicted an increase of 4 percent but achieved about 5 percent.
Despite uncertainty about Congress and the fiscal cliff, the shopping outlook shines brightly in the state, where retailers hired about 42,000 seasonal workers. Holiday sales will likely pump $58 billion into Florida's economy, up from $55 billion in 2011.
Retailers are getting help from the calendar. An early Thanksgiving means 32 shopping days between Tom Turkey and Santa Claus, including an extra weekend. And because Christmas falls on a Tuesday this year, many workers will be off Monday, Dec. 24, normally a big shopping day.
Historically, Black Friday weekend was the busiest for retailers, marking the time when stores went from in the red financially to the black, hence the name. However, in the past several years, the last weekend before Christmas has generated the most sales. Holiday shopping typically accounts for 20 to 40 percent of a retailer's annual sales, McAllister said.
Improved consumer confidence will likely translate to looser wallets. The average consumer nationwide is expected to spend about $750 on gifts and other seasonal items, just above last year's $740. Many shoppers who adhered to strict budgets during the recession will also splurge on items for themselves — spending an estimated $140 per person.
Online sales are expected to increase about 15 percent over last year, a faster clip than sales at brick-and-mortar stores. Gift cards will remain the top item.
McAllister recommended shoppers keep receipts because many stores have tightened return policies to reduce fraud. Retailers also scaled back their inventories to avoid leftovers, potentially limiting the quantities of popular items.
"The shopping season is going to be robust," he said. "While we went through a tough period, most people are feeling comfortable about their jobs. All those things that put us in a tailspin may not be back to where they were in 2006, but they are stronger."
A survey conducted by BIGinsight for the National Retail Federation shows more than half of Americans have already started their holiday shopping, up slightly from the same period last year.