Despite these challenges, Perkins said he sees more momentum heading into 2015 than he has since the recession. Over the past few days, 36 retailers have provided holiday sales or guidance—nine of which guided higher and only seven projected lower.
Of the 122 total companies Retail Metrics tracks, fourth-quarter earnings growth is expected to come in at 7.5 percent, which has held relatively steady.
At the ICR XChange Conference in Orlando this week, several retailers reported that after seeing a lull in early December, business picked up toward the end of the month. That momentum has continued into January, analysts said. Record gift card sales should also provide a boost in January, as these sales aren't logged until the cards are redeemed.
"In general, our companies were relatively optimistic driven by better-than-expected holiday sales results," Stifel Nicolaus analyst Richard Jaffe wrote in a note to investors.
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Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the NRF, emphasized that while December's sales were "disappointing," the overall holiday figure is the best since the group has seen since 2011.
"We remain positive about the future and expect to see consumers continue to benefit from the extra income gained from an improved job market and the dramatic fall in gas prices," Kleinhenz said.
NRF's figures come less than a week after ShopperTrak reported holiday sales grew 4.6 percent. That was higher than the analytics firm's forecast for an increase of 3.8 percent, and the strongest growth since 2005, when sales grew by 5.2 percent.
ShopperTrak compiles its data from retailers' sales logs, though it doesn't account for online sales. It works with more than 1,000 retailers, malls and entertainment venues.