Shoppers in US 'starting to feel better': Macy's CEO

A holiday window display at Macy's flagship store in New York.
The Magic of Macy's   

The head of one of the nation's largest department stores is cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a bullish holiday shopping season.

As the U.S. defies a bout of global economic stagnation, "I think the consumer's starting to feel better," Terry Lundgren, Macy's chairman and CEO, told CNBC.

The recovery hasn't quite boosted retailers that much in 2014, but now that the year is winding down that may change.

"The first nine months of the year, you just haven't seen it in discretionary items, in the products that we sell in department stores," Lundgren said. He cited spending demands on consumers from health care and technology as a reason for "OK, but not great" numbers so far in 2013 for the retail industry.

"We expected the consumer to be behaving slightly differently by now," he said. Still, "I'm optimistic about what could happen and should happen," Lundgren added.

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The National Retail Federation predicts that approximately 19.2 percent of 2014's annual sales for the retail industry will come from shopping during the November to December stretch.

As consumers are ready to spend during the holiday season, the CEO believes Macy's is well-positioned to reap the gains from pent-up demand. An additional boost to spending capacity will come thanks to lower gas prices, and Macy's integrated technology strategy.

More than 800 stores operate under the Macy's brand in the United States and its territories, ringing up $27.9 billion in sales last year.

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"We've grown by $4.4. billion in the last four years alone, and that's without really adding any new stores," Lundgren said.

Like many retailers that are growing more tech savvy, Macy's multichannel strategy connects the store to consumers—allowing them to shop whenever, wherever and however they prefer.

The online store grants access to Macy's entire product inventory to shoppers. All told, the department store has preserved market share as other retail chains like Sears and JCPenney close lower-performing locations.

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"We're now the eighth-largest internet company in America," Lundgren said. "That puts us in a unique position versus many of our competitors."

At that scale, Macy's has a unique window into how broad and stable the economic recovery really is.

"For us to perform at the top of our game, that will come when all boats are rising—when the economy is performing well and [U.S. growth] is growing at three-plus percent," Lundgren said.

"That's when consumers are feeling good about themselves, and their potential to spend."