As retailers continue to work through this excess product, which was largely left over due to the unseasonably warm end to 2015, Kleinhenz said he expects retailers will continue discounting their products to get consumers shopping.
Still, he predicts that as the year progresses, the labor market will continue to improve, payroll growth will pick up and gas prices will remain low — all of which should drive consumer confidence higher.
"The first quarter has been especially weak for the last three years," Kleinhenz said.
Indeed, NRF predicted last February that full-year sales would increase 4.1 percent compared to 2014. But in July, the group lowered its forecast to 3.5 percent growth, citing unexpected slowness in the first quarter.
It attributed the industry's underperformance to cold and snowy weather, a backlog of deliveries due to conflict at the West Coast ports and a stronger U.S. dollar. At that time, the group said sales had increased 2.9 percent during the first half.