Distraction and anxiety surrounding the presidential election will keep consumer spending in check until a winner is declared.
But if history is any indication, retailers could see a double-digit sales lift in November and December, as shoppers focus on the holidays and release pent-up demand.
According to analysis by AlixPartners, in the 2004 and 2012 presidential election years, year-over-year sales growth slowed an average 22 percent in September and October, as compared with the prior eight months. It then bounced back an average 16 percent in November and December.
While the end-of-year lift was more modest in 2012, rising 9.2 percent in the final two months, AlixPartners noted that year's holiday sales were pressured by disruptions from Hurricane Sandy, which hit the Northeast at the end of October. The firm excluded 2008 from its analysis because of the financial crisis.
"The campaigns are voracious consumers of media of all types," Noam Paransky, a director in AlixPartners' retail practice, told CNBC. As a result, retailers' "message is not able to break out."
Meanwhile, consumers like certainty, Paransky said. That means many will wait until they know which direction the country is headed before they begin shopping in earnest. Paransky expects the post-election sales spike to occur no matter which candidate wins, he said.
Like AlixPartners, RetailNext anticipates shoppers' election-related angst will be "well over" by Thanksgiving. Retailers should also benefit this season from two additional shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, said Shelley Kohan, vice president of retail consulting for the analytics firm.
Not everyone is convinced retailers will be able to shake off the election's weight. Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for apparel and retail at The NPD Group, wrote in a blog post Wednesday that "elections are one of the many factors that can impact retail sales." In particular, they can take a chunk out of impulse spending, which he argues is difficult to make up.
"Retail spending growth slowed from 9 percent to 6 percent in 2000, and then to 3 percent when George W. Bush took office in 2001," Cohen wrote, citing government data.
AlixPartners expects retail sales (excluding motor vehicles, fuel, restaurants and drinking establishments) to increase between 3.3 percent and 4 percent in November and December. That compares with a 2.8 percent lift last year, which was the lowest since the recession, Paransky said.
The firm's forecast is roughly in line with predictions from Deloitte, RetailNext and Kantar Retail, which are all calling for growth somewhere in the range of 3.2 percent to 4 percent.