The National Retail Federation expects U.S. sales in November and December to surpass the 3.1 percent increase seen in 2013 and average growth of 2.9 percent over the past decade, but to fall short of gains of more than 5 percent in both 2011 and 2010.
The NRF forecast is one of the closely watched benchmarks for expectations ahead of the holiday season, which can account for 20 to 40 percent of annual sales for many retailers. With consumer spending making up about 70 percent of the U.S. economy, the holiday season is an important gauge of whether the U.S. economy can grow faster.
"Retailers could see a welcome boost in holiday shopping, giving some companies the shot in the arm they need after a volatile first half of the year and an uneventful summer,” NRF's president and chief executive officer, Matthew Shay, said in a statement.
Last month, the U.S. Commerce Department said that American families spent 0.5 percent more in August than the month before. Incomes rose 0.3 percent following a 0.2 percent rise the month before, indicating the U.S. economy could be shifting into a higher gear.
"While expectations for sales growth are upbeat, it goes without saying there still remains some uneasiness and anxiety among consumers when it comes to their purchase decisions," Shay said.
NRF's Shop.org division forecast an increase of 8 to 11 percent in online holiday sales to as much as $105 billion. Comparative figures from the same period a year ago were not immediately available.
The NRF's forecast is in line with Deloitte, which expected sales to rise by 4 to 4.5 percent for November-to-January, versus 2.8 percent growth a year earlier. It is, however, more optimistic than the forecast of AlixPartners, which projected gains of 3.2 percent to 3.8 percent in 2014.
The NRF forecast excludes sales at automotive dealers, gas stations and restaurants.