National retail organizations are projecting consumers will spend 3.6 percent to 4 percent more this holiday shopping season than in 2016, and activity at Louisiana stores should be even better than that.
Helping stoke demand in south Louisiana is that households have largely recovered from the devastating summer 2016 floods, and the oil and gas industry has started to turn around after bottoming out, said Dan Rice, an associate marketing professor at LSU.
“People are back on the ground, spending more on the types of things you buy during the holiday season,” he said.
Throughout metro New Orleans area, another year of deep discounts on big-ticket items will lure shoppers online and into brick-and-mortar retailers.
Retailers are still split on the idea of opening on Thanksgiving. Some major retailers, such as Walmart, Target and Toys "R" Us, will be open that evening.
The Shops at Canal Place, the high-end luxury shopping and entertainment center at the foot of Canal Place, will open at 8 a.m. Black Friday and offer live music and complimentary coffee, pastries and mimosas until 10:30 a.m.
The nearby Outlet Collection at Riverwalk will skip Thanksgiving for the second year in a row in favor of starting early on Black Friday.
The holiday season officially kicks off on Tuesday at the outlet center, which hosts its annual tree-lighting ceremony at 5:30 p.m., at the corner of Julia Street and Convention Center Boulevard.
Despite taking Thanksgiving off, sales during last year's holiday season were up nearly 10 percent, said Riverwalk General Manager Frank Quinn, who credited the boost partly from the recent addition of fashion retailer Nordstrom's discount chain, Nordstrom Rack.
This year, Nordstrom Rack, which anchors the outlet center's upriver end, will offer 30 percent-off red-tag clearance items on Black Friday, lasting through Nov. 27. That's likely to drive interest again, he said.
"We're very optimistic," Quinn said of the upcoming shopping season.
The outlet center also has two new additions this year: Tommy Hilfiger, which opened recently and will have a 50 percent-off sale on Black Friday, and Calvin Klein Underwear, which is scheduled to open in time for Christmas.
"We're seeing people that all the time remember Riverwalk from growing up, and have fine memories," Quinn said. "Now, they're coming back, not only during the holiday season but throughout the year."
However, across the U.S., some experts believe most gains in holiday spending will be driven largely by higher-end consumers.
According to the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PwC, holiday spending — including gifts, travel and entertainment — is expected to climb 6 percent over 2016. But that's slightly less than last year's growth over 2015, a distinction the firm attributed at least partly to consumers grappling with stagnant wages.
PwC's holiday shopping outlook, which polled nearly 2,400 consumers, found 83 percent of participants expected to spend an average of about $1,189 each. But it also found households with incomes below $60,000 would likely spend less on gifts and entertainment than last year, while potentially boosting their travel spending.
"Absent wage growth, consumer optimism alone may not bolster holiday spending," according to PwC's report. "Wages should be accelerating as more employers struggle to find workers; so far, however, wage growth has been modest at best. Eventually, households need to make more money or they will have to rein in spending."
But at least one major retail trade group believes the country's healthy overall economy will boost holiday sales.
The National Retail Federation forecasts sales for November and December should be 3.6 percent to 4 percent higher than last year, reaching as high as $682 billion.
“The combination of job creation, improved wages, tame inflation and an increase in net worth all provide the capacity and the confidence (for consumers) to spend,” Jack Kleinhenz, the NRF’s chief economist, said in a statement.
Rice, the LSU professor, is also bullish, predicting the weekend's retail sales activity, beginning on Black Friday, will rise by 47 percent over 2016.
“There will be a lot more spent this year,” he said.
While much of the focus on Black Friday is on the door-buster sales that draw out thousands of shoppers to big-box stores before sunrise, it is also a huge day for small, independent retailers, according to data provided by the San Francisco-based firm Womply.
According to an analysis of sales transactions at 1,150 Louisiana retailers, revenue at small businesses on that date in 2016 was 170 percent of the normal daily revenue. The second biggest day was Dec. 23, when revenues hit 160 percent of the normal total.
“People are trained to get out of the house and spend money on shopping on those days, and small retailers benefit as well,” said Brad Plothow, a spokesman for Womply. “It’s a huge lift for local retailers that spills over the weekend.”
Black Friday is a far bigger day for independent businesses than Small Business Saturday, the event held the day after Black Friday that American Express created to help small companies. Sales on that day were 123 percent of the typical day, Plothow said.
Online sales are expected to break the $100 billion mark over the holiday season, according to the research firm Adobe Analytics. E-commerce is expected to post a 13.8 percent gain over 2016 and are forecast to hit $107.4 billion.
Retailers are split, with about 60 percent focusing more on online sales this year, and 40 percent focusing more on brick-and-mortar stores, Rice said.
“But a lot of retailers use a combination of both,” he said. “They offer services where you can order online and pick up at the store.”