Trade group: Retail sales should grow 6.5% to 8.2% this year

NEW YORK — The nation’s largest retail trade group is forecasting strong retail sales growth this year that could surpass last year’s pace as more individuals get vaccinated and the economy reopens.

The National Retail Federation said today it anticipates that retail sales will grow between 6.5% and 8.2% to more than $4.33 trillion this year.

Online sales, which are included in the total, are expected to grow between 18% and 23% this year.

Early results show that retail sales last year increased 6.7% compared with the previous year to $4.06 trillion, nearly double the trade group’s forecast of at least 3.5% growth. That figure had not accounted for the global pandemic. This figure compares with 3.9% growth in 2019. The numbers exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.

The group said that it could be the best performance since 2004 when retail sales rose 6.3%.

“Despite the continuing health and economic challenges COVID-19 presents, we are very optimistic that healthy consumer fundamentals, pent-up demand and widespread distribution of the vaccine will generate increased economic growth, retail sales and consumer spending,” said trade group CEO and President Matthew Shay in a statement.

Not everyone is participating in strong sales gains. Walmart and other big box stores as well as online behemoth Amazon have benefited from shoppers’ accelerated shift online and their embrace of one-stop shopping to limit exposure to the virus. Home improvement stores have also done well as shoppers plow money into their homes.

But clothing stores, which were already struggling before the pandemic, face big challenges as they were forced to temporarily close last spring to reduce the spread of the virus. That only increased the dominance of discounters, which were allowed to stay open. Macy’s and others reopened last May and have had a slow recovery. But Macy’s offered earlier this week annual forecasts that beat Wall Street forecasts and says it looks to 2021 as a year to recover and rebuild.