The holiday season is, for many retailers, the most important time of the year. The rush at the end of the year offsets dead sales times, enabling businesses to keep their doors open. Know that, in some sectors of the retail industry, holiday sales account for more than 25% of annual revenues.

National projections point to a solid 3.6% increase in sales that is higher than the 2.5% average during the past 10 years. Most consumers don’t start holiday shopping until November and the majority anticipate shopping online and at department stores, which is concerning for local retailers.

“Shopping local is important, not just around the holiday season, but year ’round,” said Maryland Retailers Association (MRA) President Cailey Locklair Tolle. “Online shopping may seem appealing from retailers who don’t charge sales tax, but your community brick-and-mortar stores hire your neighbors, provide much-needed tax revenue for the things we all care about, and local stores give back to communities in so many ways. As the No. 1 private sector job provider in the state, the best way to invest in Maryland is to shop local.”

Consumer spending should continue to increase, with a projected average of $935 on holiday gifts, décor and other items. Candy and food will remain the largest sector consumers spend money on, topping $100 million nationally, and the No. 1 item on everyone’s wish list is gift cards. Barbie was back on top last year as the No. 1 toy for girls, and Lego building bricks for boys. All signs point to a repeat of last year’s ranking for these toys.

As exciting as the projected sales increase national data points to, many Maryland retailers surveyed by the MRA said online sales, the election, weather and the economy will weigh heavily on their outcome this holiday season, and they are not optimistic for such a large increase. Many MRA members feel sales will be flat or they will only see a small bump this year; unfortunately, this means many stores will not be bringing on additional staff in Maryland, although national projections point to 690,000 new holiday jobs across the country.

MRA’s holiday forecast is based on member surveys in conjunction with a review of the National Retail Federation’s holiday forecast, consumer trends and historical retail sales data.