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
Holiday quarter: 31.6 percent of annual sales
Abercrombie & Fitch disappointed investors who had been closely watching its turnaround last week, when sales trends dropped off at its namesake label. The parent of the California-centric Hollister label told Wall Street that it expects the fourth quarter to remain challenging, but said it expects a slightly better performance in same-store sales.
Holiday quarter: 32.8 percent of annual sales
Like the broader department store space, Macy's sales have come under pressure as shoppers spend more of their money at off-price competitors and on the web. Yet with inventory levels finally in check, investors say the chain has an opportunity to boost its margins this holiday season, after last year's unseasonably warm weather forced it to slash prices on cold-weather goods.
Holiday quarter: 33.3 percent of annual sales
Kohl's has also reduced the amount of merchandise it has on hand, and noted that sales trends picked up during October. Still, the department store chain has struggled to bring shoppers into its stores, and is leaning on its most loyal customers to boost sales in the fourth quarter.
Holiday quarter: 33.4 percent of annual sales
The fourth quarter is traditionally the biggest time of year for online sales, as shoppers look to save time while crossing items off their list. Amazon will once again aggressively chase after that spending, including a holiday campaign that promises more than 35 days of Black Friday deals.
Holiday quarter: 34.5 percent of annual sales
Nothing screams doorbuster deals quite like flatscreen TVs and in-demand technology. Best Buy has regained its position as a leader in this space, growing its digital sales by roughly 24 percent the past three quarters. With competitors like Wal-Mart zeroing in on its bread-and-butter categories during the fourth quarter, Best Buy plans to lean into its product expertise as a means to differentiate itself.
Holiday quarter: 36.2 percent of annual sales
The parent company of Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body works, L Brands' assortment skews heavily toward gifting items. Spanning lingerie to flirty fragrances, the company's merchandise also appeals to shoppers across age groups.
Holiday quarter: 36.5 percent of annual sales
Nearly 30 percent of jewelry stores' revenue was rung up in November and December last year, according to the National Retail Federation. That makes Signet, which owns the Kay and Jared brands, highly vulnerable to the fourth quarter. Sales at high-end jeweler Tiffany are likewise skewed to the fourth quarter, accounting for roughly 29 percent of sales.
Holiday quarter: 37.8 percent of annual sales
Major video game and console releases are typically held until the holiday season, when producers try to drum up excitement for their latest offerings. That puts a seasonal slant on GameStop's business. Though video games and equipment remain at the core of the retailer's business, it is also trying to diversify by expanding its technology brands segment, which includes Spring Mobile.
Holiday quarter: 41.1 percent of annual sales
Toys are one of the most popular gifting items, with companies including Wal-Mart and Target gunning for Toys R Us' market share during the fourth quarter. To better compete with mass merchants and low-price online players, Toys R Us is ramping up its in-store experience, including more interactive product demonstrations. The toy industry is expected to increase sales by 6.5 percent this year, according to The NPD Group.