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NRF Forecasts Retail Sales Could Grow by up to 8.2% in 2021

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Accelerating vaccine rollouts combined with pent-up consumer demand will drive 2021 U.S. retail sales to at least $4.33 trillion, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). That total would represent a 6.5% increase over 2020, but sales could reach as high as $4.4 trillion, creating an 8.2% growth rate.

Online sales, which are included in the forecasted totals, are expected to grow between 18% and 23%, based on a low estimate of $1.14 trillion and a high of $1.19 trillion.

The projected increases for 2021 will put sales growth rates on a par with 2020’s. Early results indicate that retail sales grew 6.7% last year compared to 2019, to $4.06 trillion. Online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total, zoomed higher in 2020, reaching $969.4 billion — nearly 22% of the total.

NRF is forecasting healthy growth for the economy overall, with real GDP climbing by 4.5% to 5% and the addition of 220,000 to 300,000 jobs per month. However, all these rosy forecasts are based on rapid and effective vaccinations across the country.

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“The trajectory of the economy is predicated on the effectiveness of the vaccine and its distribution,” said Jack Kleinhenz, Chief Economist at NRF in a statement. “Our principal assumption is that the vaccination will be effective and permit accelerated growth during the mid-year. The economy is expected to see its fastest growth in over two decades.”

The 2020 November-December holiday season accounted for 19.4% of overall annual retail sales. Sales during this period grew by 8%, to $787.1 billion. Non-store and online sales represented $206.9 billion of total holiday sales, up a remarkable 22.6% compared to holiday 2019.

“From the outset of the pandemic, retailers have gone above and beyond even the most conservative safety guidelines to protect and serve their associates and consumers alike,” said Matthew Shay, President and CEO of NRF in a statement “Retailers are increasingly engaged in working with federal, state and local health officials to distribute and administer the vaccine. This partnership has been key to our economic health throughout the pandemic and will continue this year.”

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