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How Much Will Retail Sales Grow This Year?

That depends on whom you ask.

Earlier this month, the National Retail Federation (NRF) projected growth of 3.8% to 4.4%.

But we forecast retail sales will grow by only 3.2% in 2019. And to complicate matters, the NRF's projections result in sales of $3.82 trillion to $3.84 trillion, while we forecast total sales of $5.514 trillion. So, which numbers should you rely on?

Well, as the table below shows, there’s retail and there’s retail. The key differentiator between our forecasts is the NRF’s exclusion of auto and gas sales from its numbers. But, timing is also a factor.

The NRF forecast is based on data from the Commerce Department through November 2018 and the firm's own estimate for December. In preparing our forecast, we also used the Commerce Department data and factored in the weaker-than-expected December 2018 sales. However, it’s important to note that the December slowdown was greater than we and the NRF had expected.

According to eMarketer forecasting analyst Cindy Liu, “Our 2019 growth figures are lower than the NRF’s, as we took into consideration a slowdown in retail sales in December 2018 based on results from several large ecommerce retailers, including Amazon, Apple and eBay. We believe this slowdown, along with the added effects of the government shutdown, the trade war and a volatile stock market, will play a larger role in 2019.”

While we and the NRF both consider the economy sound based on record-low unemployment rates, high consumer confidence and the effects of the tax stimulus, Liu noted that “we still cannot downplay the impact that the overall economy has on consumer spending. With the recent December figures from the Department of Commerce, it just goes to show how sensitive retail sales are to the broader economic space.”