3 Takeaways From the 2019 Holiday Retail Forecast

It's looking less dire than predicted

people driving in the snow and gifts on their car
Holiday shopping predictions have grown rosier, but uncertainty lingers. Getty Images

As summer ended, much of the early forecasting for the holiday season was filled with dread: The trade war with China had the potential to inflate prices on electronics like popular gaming consoles; labor strikes could create income uncertainty; and recession fears had everyone feeling nervous.

For a more accurate look at the upcoming 2019 holiday season, research firm Morning Consult took the pulse of consumer confidence with a late October survey of 2,200 adults. Here are the resulting holiday shopping trends, and some good news after all the gloom.

1. We likely dodged the most dire scenario

Those ominous warnings about burdensome tariffs and economic downturns were overblown (in the near-term, at least), so consumers—and retailers—are back to celebrating the season. The October jobs report showed a strong labor market, corporate earnings were higher than expected, and, for the most part, the tangible effects of the trade war didn’t reach consumers in a meaningful way. And when an apparent breakthrough in trade negotiations was reported, consumer confidence swelled.

“The reason we felt comfortable releasing this report was that we saw all these … fundamental improvements,” said Morning Consult analyst John Leer. “Not only does the fundamental picture look better, consumers acknowledge they are better off than they thought they were in August. That sort of confidence allows them to go out and buy a TV in November instead of waiting until next June.”

Uncertainty stemming from the United Auto Workers strike has also been largely assuaged after the union’s deal with General Motors.

"Consumers acknowledge they are better off than they thought they were in August. ... That sort of confidence allows them to go out and buy a TV in November instead of waiting until next June."
John Leer, analyst, Morning Consult

2. This year’s shopping numbers come with caveats

Because Thanksgiving comes so late in the month this year, the shopping season is truncated, which could still affect sales as shoppers try to cut corners to fit everything in before Christmas.

Predictions this year are based on percentage growth from last year’s sales. Due to a December that featured both a government shutdown and a stock market nosedive, 2018 did not end with strong holiday sales. When marveling at how much better the forecast is looking now versus the end of the summer, it’s important to keep that in mind–the bar was set very low.

3. Uncertainty remains, even amid positive signs

The gist of Morning Consult’s report is that the forecast for this year’s holiday season doesn’t look as bad as it did in late summer. Those predictions laid out a wide target range for where holiday retail sales growth would be this year, and this latest report doesn’t narrow down that range at all, a fact that “speaks to uncertainty,” said Leer.

So far, these new, more upbeat predictions are holding: Walmart released its Q3 sales this week with better-than-expected numbers, and October retail sales were also higher than anticipated.

There’s no way to know for certain that things will stay rosy through the end of 2019, but at least the darker clouds seem to have lifted.

@klundster kathryn.lundstrom@adweek.com Kathryn Lundstrom is Adweek's breaking news reporter based in Austin.