South Louisiana retailers said they are optimistic about the upcoming holiday shopping season, which will start in earnest at many stores and shopping malls on Thanksgiving night.

This will be the second holiday season for The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk. Frank Quinn, general manager of the shopping center in New Orleans’ Central Business District, said the center has had a chance to build on the promotions it launched last year, and he’s “very optimistic,” although he wouldn’t give specific sales projections.

“Our leasing has been very strong, and we have more tenants than ever before,” said Tony Stephens, general manager of the Mall of Louisiana in Baton Rouge Because the regional shopping center will have more places for customers to shop, it should be a “very good holiday season,” Stephens said.

Stephens and mall officials wouldn’t give specific holiday sales projections, saying they were basing their optimism on conversations with stores and the early number of shoppers.

The National Retail Federation predicts holiday sales will increase by 3.7 percent over 2014 figures, down slightly from the improvements seen in recent years. Spending rose by 4.1 percent in 2014 and 2013.

The holiday shopping season is critical to retailers, accounting for about 20 percent of annual retail sales.

While the U.S. economy continues to improve, the south Louisiana economy is holding steady, despite a protracted run of low oil prices.

Even with the anxiety, the holiday shopping period is still expected to be record breaking. The NRF estimates sales in November and December will top $630.5 billion, with the average spending per person on Christmas, Hanukkah and/or Kwanzaa reaching $805.65.

Katrina Chan, a shopping manager for NerdWallet, a personal finance website, attributed the projected increase in holiday spending to lower national unemployment figures. “What’s also interesting to note is that while consumers may be comfortable spending more, they’re doing so responsibly and plan to pay off their purchases quickly,” Chan said, noting that middle-class households recently surveyed by NerdWallet said they figure to pay off their holiday credit card purchases in 1.3 months, down from 2.6 months a year ago.

FedEx said it expects to handle 317 million packages from Nov. 27 to Dec. 24, a 12.4 percent increase over last year’s numbers. The continuing shift from shopping in stores to online activity is leading to the increase.

Wal-Mart is expecting sales to increase 1 percent in the fourth quarter compared to the year before.

Molly Blakeman, a spokeswoman for the retail giant, said several items are expected to be strong sellers this year. The retailer will carry an iPad Mini for $199 that’s expected to end up as a gift in many households. Shopkins, a line of supermarket-themed small collectible dolls, are also expected to be popular. “That’s like ‘Frozen’ for 2015,” Blakeman said, referring to merchandise tied to the blockbuster animated movie.

Licensed “Star Wars” items will be popular this holiday season because of excitement over the release of the upcoming “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” movie on Dec. 18. Wal-Mart will have more than 500 Star Wars-themed products this holiday season, including action figures, video games, bandages, and macaroni and cheese, Blakeman said.

Quinn, of The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk, said he expects athletic wear to be popular this holiday season. “A lot of stores that sell athletic wear are expanding the lines that they carry and their product offerings,” he said. Quinn said he attributed this to the shift toward more casual clothing.

On the other end of the fashion spectrum, upscale textured goods should sell well during the holidays. That covers everything from furs sold at the Riverwalk’s Neiman Marcus Last Call Studio to lace dresses at Forever 21 and suede boots at Steve Madden. “All the retailers who have those textured products do quite well,” he said.

“We want to spread the word that it’s now time to come back and spend some holiday time downtown,” he said. “There’s so much to offer for this season coming up.”

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter @TCB_TheAdvocate.