Shoppers kick off the Christmas shopping rush last year at a Target store in Mentor, Ohio. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

Retailers are in for a somewhat less merry holiday sales season this year, according to a forecast by consultancy Deloitte that predicts a 3.5 to 4 percent increase in sales during the industry’s most crucial selling period, compared to a 5.2 percent uptick in 2014.

While more people have jobs, home values have increased, and gas prices have remained low, Deloitte’s retail practice leader Rod Sides said they believe that shoppers still aren’t feeling like they’ve got disposable income to burn.

“From a retail perspective, the first couple quarters of the year were pretty tough, and we’re just starting to see that turn the corner,” Sides said. “So I think what happens is there’s a little bit of a lingering effect in terms of how people are feeling about their levels of investment, about how much they can go spend.”

Deloitte projects that total sales for retailers — excluding the motor vehicle and gasoline categories — will be between $961 billion and $965 billion in November through January.

Deloitte is expecting a stronger sales increase in the online shopping category of 8.5 to 9 percent.  Sides said this figure might be a little lower than some analysts expected, but reflects the way customers shift back and forth between online and brick-and-mortar shopping.  Many shoppers, for example, are taking advantage of “buy online, pick up in store” options, while plenty of others are researching a purchase online but actually purchasing it in the store later.

“We’re finding that those lines are blurring, and I think this is just now retail business as normal,” Sides said.

In other words, while the digital channel continues to be of critical importance to retailers, the number of shoppers actually closing the deal online might not be growing as rapidly as you’d think.

In recent years, the holiday season has been featured a seemingly endless parade of profit-eating promotions.  However, as the economy has gotten less gloomy, some retailers have tried to put the brakes on such offers this year.  Sides predicts, though, that promotions will be as robust as ever this year, and will likely get started early.

“We learned our lesson a couple of years ago in that we had some really bad weather just before the holidays,” Sides said. “So I think that’s also what pushed folks to driving promotions earlier in the cycle.”

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