Forecast: Retail Ready to Rock ’n’ Roll in 2021

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Sales could grow as much as 8.2% as vaccines get into arms and people venture out more

As more Americans get vaccinated and the economy continues to reopen, U.S. retail sales are expected to grow between 6.5% and 8.2% in 2021, reaching $4.33 trillion to $4.4 trillion dollars, according to a new forecast from the National Retail Federation, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association.

“Despite the continuing health and economic challenges Covid-19 presents, we are very optimistic that healthy consumer fundamentals, pent-up demand and widespread distribution of the vaccine will generate increased economic growth, retail sales and consumer spending,” said Matthew Shay, NRF president and chief executive officer. “From the outset of the pandemic, retailers have gone above and beyond even the most conservative safety guidelines to protect and serve their associates and consumers alike. Retailers are increasingly engaged in working with federal, state and local health officials to distribute and administer the vaccine. This partnership has been key to our economic health throughout the pandemic and will continue this year.”

Early results show that retail sales grew 6.7% in 2020 over 2019, reaching $4.06 trillion — and nearly doubling NRF’s forecast of at least 3.5%. Online and other nonstore sales alone jumped 21.9% as consumers shifted to e-commerce.

In 2021, online sales are expected to grow between 18% and 23% to between $1.14 trillion and $1.19 trillion.

The numbers exclude sales at automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants. 

“The trajectory of the economy is predicated on the effectiveness of the vaccine and its distribution,” said Jack Kleinhenz NRF chief economist.  “Our principal assumption is that that the vaccination will be effective and permits accelerated growth during the midyear. The economy is expected to see its fastest growth in over two decades.”