The National Retail Federation delivered a forecast for sales in 2013 that can best be summed up in one word: blah.
Executives at the national trade group used words such as "tepid," "sub-par" and "subdued" to describe what they see in the coming year. The group is predicting retail sales will rise 3.4 percent in 2013, down from a 4.2 percent increase in 2012.
The list of challenges the NRF enumerated is long, and familiar. The 2 point payroll tax increase lowered most people's take-home income, the fiscal cliff and possible looming budget cuts spooked many people, job growth and income growth remain slow, and the economy overall is strolling along at a leisurely 2 percent growth rate.
But although the NRF isn't exactly breaking out the champagne to celebrate, the group is also emphasizing that many companies are better positioned to deal with slow growth than they were before the start of the recession. Sales actually fell more than 3 percent in 2009, slamming retailers. Since then, many have kept leaner inventories and changed how they promote and manage their goods to avoid disastrous unplanned markdowns.
"It's still pretty good, all things considered," said NRF chief executive Matthew Shay.
And individual sectors could do much better than the average. Discounters such as Matthews-based Family Dollar could see their sales continue to grow quickly, as people still seek to save money and look to trade down. Home improvement stores, such as Mooresville-based Lowe's Inc., are also looking forward to a year of good growth as the housing market continues to improve. While larger electronics such as big-screen TVs are struggling, small electronics such as tablets and cell phones are selling at a rapid clip.
E-commerce is also forecast to do well, growing from 14 percent of total sales last year to 18 percent of total sales this year.