NRF released holiday sales figures on January 12, 2018 with holiday sales rising to $691.9 billion in November and December, marking a 5.5 percent increase from the year before. The NRF had forecast holiday spending growth of 3.6 percent to 4 percent. They attributed this to growing wages, stronger employment and higher confidence, leading consumers to spend more than had been expected. The number, which excludes restaurants, automobile dealers and gasoline stations, includes $138.4 billion in online and other non-store sales, which were up 11.5 percent over the year before.

In Hampton Roads, we touched base with 17 local, small to medium sized retailers across the region, and from their feedback in our survey, although mostly positive, they didn’t fare as strongly.

The majority of local retailers wear multiple hats to operate their business. They look after all aspects of their business, from marketing and accounting, to human resources and merchandising. Most do not operate an e-commerce store let alone manage to keep their website and social media content fresh on a daily basis. They have limited marketing and advertising budgets, and find it difficult to compete on price with big boxes who bulk buy at hugely discounted rates.

To stand out in the marketplace, they must have exceptional customer service, create¬† personalized “experiences” for their customers and, if possible, have a strong online presence.

These challenges were evident in the survey findings, with their biggest being: limited advertising and marketing budget (75%), online shopping (37.5%), and big box competition (31.25%). See chart below for full list.

Retail Pulse biggest challenges chart

Retail Pulse 2017 sales results

When asked of their sales performance during the holiday season, results were mostly positive, matching the national trend. 70% experienced an increase in retail sales compared to the previous year. Among specialty retailers only, the result was higher with 82% experiencing increased sales. Of those retailers who had an online store, majority saw flat or decreased, reflecting their biggest challenge of limited marketing dollars.

The chances of appearing at the top of search results is extremely low without investment in digital marketing and an e-commerce presence. Therefore it goes back to retailers being able to set themselves apart in the shopping experience, customer satisfaction and customer relationship management.

To assist in this regard, Retail Alliance have launched STRIVE monthly workshops throughout the year focused on various elements of marketing, from digital presence, to digital marketing, social media, to public relations. Check them out here!

Any questions relating to the survey results, please contact Kylie Ross Sibert, Vice President Corporate Communications, Retail Alliance at or phone (757) 455 9323. To view and download the full results, click here.