By Ashley Davis
The NRF said 2018 retail sales will grow between 3.8 and 4.4 percent over last year, which includes a 10-12 percent increase in online and other non-store sales.

Washington--The National Retail Federation has released its growth predictions for the year ahead, and they’re slightly higher than last year’s figures.

Overall retail industry sales are expected to increase between 3.8 and 4.4 percent. Included in this number are online and all types of non-store sales, which should see a 10 to 12 percent increase over last year.

Last year, the NRF predicted retail sales would increase between 3.2 and 3.8 percent. While subject to revision, the U.S. Census Bureau’s preliminary analysis of 2017 shows that an increase slightly higher at 3.9 percent over 2016 to $3.53 trillion.

NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay noted that a strong holiday season is one indicator of a positive year ahead.

“A robust holiday season for retail sales is just one of many barometers that points to a consumer who is clearly feeling positive about their financial health,” he said.

“Despite headlines to the contrary, the retail industry is strong, growing and meeting consumer demand with the products they want at the prices they expect and the shopping experience they want to have, online or in store. With consumer confidence high, unemployment low and wages growing, there is every reason to believe that retail sales will be robust throughout the year.”

When National Jeweler spoke with retailers during the holiday season, several thought that a positive economic outlook, due in part to a booming stock market, was responsible for a healthy holiday season.

Last week, however, the stock market showed great volatility, trading “about 20,000 points back and forth in a roughly 2,000-point trading range,” according to an analysis by CNBC. The week was feared to be the worst for the stock market since the 2008 financial crisis, but narrowly avoided it.

Any ongoing volatility in the year ahead is likely to have a negative impact on growth.

But the NRF is also predicting positive gains for unemployment in 2018, another essential aspect of the U.S. economy.

Jobs are expected to increase by 163,000 a month this year, slightly down from last year but in line with labor market growth, and unemployment is predicted to decrease by 3.9 percent by the end of 2018.

NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said: “The underpinnings of the economy are very good and consumer spending is at the center of our outlook. The push and pull of forces both external and internal to the U.S. economy will continue to provide challenges, but on balance we expect a good year. And as the retail industry continues to transform, retailers will leverage the new tax plan to invest in their employees, stores and new formats that engage with the ever-evolving and demanding consumer.”

Though online and non-store sales are predicted to increase more than in-store sales, TD Bank’s Retail Experience Index recently affirmed that the in-store buying experience for fine jewelry remains essential.

In a recent survey of 1,021 consumers, the financial institution found that 47 percent of jewelry shoppers spent one to two hours in a jewelry store on average before making a major purchase and tended to visit three to four different stores.

Underscoring the importance of reaching consumers via multiple channels of sale, 47 percent of these shoppers spent three to six hours researching online. Ultimately, 54 percent of customers ended up buying in-store, 34 percent online and 10 percent through a retailer’s app. 

Jewelry shoppers also continue to be repeat purchasers. Seventy-eight percent of the shoppers who had spent $500 or more in the last year said they were “very” or “extremely likely” to make another significant purchase in the next six months, indicating that they are likely turning to fine jewelry purchases for occasions, like birthdays and holidays.

TD Bank said that all of this data highlights the importance of the in-store experience, as 60 percent of shoppers said that knowledgeable sales associates are “very important” to deciding where to shop and 69 percent of them sought help from an associate during their last jewelry store purchase.

Seventy-nine percent of those surveyed said the sales associate was influential in deciding their ultimate purchase.

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Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.