Holiday retail sales expected to rise 2.4 percent

Retail sales will be up slightly this holiday season compared to last year, according to ShopperTrak.

The firm that measures store traffic is calling for a 2.4 percent increase in sales in November and December. That's a slower pace than last year, when sales rose 3 percent compared to 2011.

And shoppers will likely make their way to fewer stores, leading to a 1.4 percent drop in store traffic this holiday season, ShopperTrak said.

"Although the economy continues to recover slowly, consumers remain cautious about spending and are not ready to splurge," said Bill Martin, ShopperTrak's founder. "Even though online buying increases each year, brick-and-mortar sales remain retail's largest profit opportunity."

Retailers count on holiday sales for about a fifth of their annual business.

ShopperTrak expects sales at electronics and appliance stores to rise 2 percent, while sales at apparel and accessory stores are expected to be up 2.8 percent.

Retailers will have less time this year to capture shoppers' attention, with only 25 days between Black Friday on Nov. 29 and Christmas, compared to 31 days in that period in 2012. Consumers will have four weekends -- not five like last year -- to go shopping between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Because Hanukkah starts the day before Thanksgiving, 11 days earlier than last year, promotions might start as early as the day after Halloween, ShopperTrak says.

Retailers need to hit the ground running at the beginning of November, Martin said.

"Nobody can afford to procrastinate," he said.

 lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com