Small businesses expect merrier holiday season

J.D. Harrison (c) 2014, The Washington Post.

WASHINGTON — This time last year, America’s small businesses weren’t exactly preparing for the most wonderful time of the year. The government had recently shut down, consumer confidence was lagging — even the calendar presented problems, dishing up the shortest holiday shopping season in more than a decade.

Basically, the outlook was “Bah, humbug.”

The mood is decidedly more merry on Main Street heading into this holiday season. Of course, it helps that the National Retail Federation is predicting a healthy 4.1 percent bump in sales for all stores this year, up from a 3.1 percent uptick last year. Meanwhile, AlixPartners, a consulting group, projects that sales for the retail industry could increase by nearly 5 percent.

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Question is, can the nation’s smallest retailers get their hands on a not-so-small share of that spending? Many like their chances, based on the latest polling from research groups and small-business organizations. Here’s a sampling:

— Nearly half of small-business owners expect this year’s holiday sales to top last year’s results, while a quarter expect sales to hold steady, according to Capital One. Heading into the new year, half say they feel good about the direction of the national economy, while even more, 62 percent, are optimistic about their local economies. Seven in 10 believe their companies’ sales will increase next year.

— American Express showed similar results in its annual Small Business Holiday Monitor, reporting that 47 percent of small retailers anticipate stronger sales this holiday season than last, up from 30 percent who said the same this time last year. Additionally, the number of small-business employers planning to give their staffs bonuses and their clients gifts have both increased markedly this year.

— Analysts expect this to be another big year for e-commerce, and small retailers will probably be no exception. Volusion, a business software provider, has predicted a 9 percent bump in online holiday sales for small and medium-size businesses this year, with an increasingly large share of that coming from shoppers using their mobile devices.

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— The youngest of business owners appear to be feeling the most merry heading into 2015. A Bank of America poll released this month showed that 78 percent of millennial and 71 percent of Generation X entrepreneurs believe their revenues will increase next year, well above the 52 percent of baby-boom business owners who expect a bump in the coming year.