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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2018:10:19 19:38:23

Photos by Joe Sylvester / For Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal People shop at the Viewmont Mall.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2018:10:20 18:19:04

Justin Lansberry, second assistant manager at Zumiez.

by Joe Sylvester

Northeastern Pennsylvania merchants are expecting to have a merry holiday shopping season.

So is the National Retail Federation, which announced recently that it expects holiday retail sales in November and December — excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants — to increase between 4.3 and 4.8 percent over 2017 for a total of $717.45 billion to $720.89 billion.

“Thanks to a healthy economy and strong consumer confidence, we believe that this holiday season will continue to reflect the growth we’ve seen over the past year,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “While there is concern about the impacts of an escalating trade war, we are optimistic that the pace of economic activity will continue to increase through the end of the year.”

“I think it’s going to be decent,” said Tia Ulbaldini, assistant manager of Shoe Dept. at the Steamtown Mall in Scranton. “I think it’s really going to be busy.”

She said the shoe business isn’t hurt by online competition, either.

“People like to try them on,” she said.

“I expect an excellent holiday season,” said Marie Jones, manager of the High Street clothing store, also at Steamtown. “People seem to have more money now and they’re in a better mood.”

Jenny Turner, co-manager of the Express clothing store at the Wyoming Valley Mall, expects customers to flood into the store during the holiday season.

“I feel the customer still wants to come into the store,” Turner said. “We like to dig into their needs.”

By that she means the sales staff will ask the customer how their day is going, what they are looking for.

“What can I do to make their day better,” Turner said. “You can’t get that online.”

And, she added, shoppers will always come out for the holidays.

“We haven’t seen any downside during the holidays,” Turner said.

Andre Fleming agreed people will be out in stores this holiday season.

“It’s the shopping,” said Fleming, manager of the Blue Monkey Vapes kiosk at Wyoming Valley Mall.

“I think this year we’re expecting a lot of people to come in,” said Justin Lansberry, second assistant manager at the Zumiez clothing and accessories store in the mall. “In November and December, they come in for snow season.”

Retailers hope sales this year surpass last year’s.

According to the NRF, holiday sales in 2017 totaled $687.87 billion, a 5.3 percent increase over the year before and the largest increase since the 5.2 percent year-over-year gain seen in 2010 after the end of the Great Recession.

“Last year’s strong results were thanks to growing wages, stronger employment and higher confidence, complemented by anticipation of tax cuts that led consumers to spend more than expected,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “With this year’s forecast, we continue to see strong momentum from consumers as they do the heavy lifting in supporting our economy. The combination of increased job creation, improved wages, tamed inflation and an increase in net worth all provide the capacity and the confidence to spend.”

NRF forecasts that annual retail sales for 2018 will increase by at least 4.5 percent over 2017.

NRF’s holiday forecast is based on an economic model using several indicators, including consumer credit, disposable personal income and previous monthly retail sales. The number includes online and other non-store sales.