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Shoppers wait for the 5 a.m. tablet computer door buster deal at the Toys R Us store in Glen Burnie on Black Friday.
Shoppers wait for the 5 a.m. tablet computer door buster deal at the Toys R Us store in Glen Burnie on Black Friday. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Holiday shopping is expected to be stronger this year than last, with one retail group calling for the biggest gain in three years.

Consumers will spend an estimated $488.6 billion at shopping centers during November and December, a 4 percent sales gain, the International Council of Shopping Centers said in a forecast Thursday.

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The group pointed to a significant rebound in the labor market since last spring, lower unemployment rates and gains in personal income as factors expected to boost spending. Consumer confidence is higher than last September, the group said.

"While consumers are expected to remain focused on price this holiday, the positive momentum of key economic indicators are pointing to consumers who are willing to open their wallets and hit the stores this holiday," said Jesse Tron, ICSC spokesman.

The biggest sales gains are expected in the electronics and appliances category, with a nearly 10 percent projected increase over the 2013 holiday season.

Holiday hiring is expected to jump more than 7 percent to 794,258 seasonal jobs at shopping centers nationally.

A separate survey released Thursday said a quarter of consumers plan to spend more on holiday shopping this year, compared to 20 percent last year. Consumers will spend an average $718 on holiday gifts, according to Accenture's annual holiday shopping survey.

Enthusiasm for Black Friday shopping has climbed to its highest level in eight years, the survey found. Two-thirds of shoppers surveyed are likely to shop on the day after Thanksgiving, compared with just over half who had planned to shop the day last year.

More than a quarter of consumers in the survey said they have more discretionary income, while 22 percent said they have greater job security. Nearly half plan to spend $250 or more.

But shoppers will be looking to stretch those dollars, with 96 percent looking for discounts.

"The holiday shopping season is one of the most competitive times of the year for retailers, but they also have a big opportunity to drive sales and acquire new customers," Dave Richards, global managing director of Accenture's retail practice, said in a statement. "The majority of retailers look for ways to extend the holiday season as late as possible, but can face challenges in delivering a physical product in time."

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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