The fourth quarter is widely regarded as the most critical time of year for retailers. Yet a quick look at the Commerce Department's annual sales data shows that isn't always the case.
Despite the industry's emphasis on holiday shopping, the final three months of 2015 accounted for roughly one-quarter of the year's retail sales, excluding autos and food services. The period's importance is tempered by categories such as building materials and garden equipment, which nabbed just 16 percent of their revenue in November and December last year.
Yet for brands that rack up more than 30 percent of their sales during the quarter, the holiday season can indeed be make or break. Retailers that specialize in popular gifting categories, such as toys, electronics and jewelry, are particularly vulnerable. Not only do a large chunk of those categories' sales occur in the fourth quarter, but mass merchants often slash prices on toys and TVs to bring foot traffic into their stores.
"It gets really tough," Moody's analyst Charlie O'Shea said. "In some cases when you are very seasonal and you're under attack, in order to defend your year-round... position, you have to be competitive."
The National Retail Federation predicts industry sales will increase 3.6 percent in November and December, which would mark a slight acceleration from last holiday's 3.2 percent growth. Here are nine retailers who are counting on that increase the most.
* Data compiled by Moody's and CNBC