When retailers' sales reports trickle out in the new year, they'll be hard-pressed to find an excuse if their results fall short.
Buoyed by strong economic fundamentals, more confident consumers and a last-minute spending surge, several industry groups are now saying the season could come in at the high end or above their original forecasts.
That includes Customer Growth Partners, a well-known research firm that earlier this week raised its prediction from 4.1 percent growth to a 4.9 percent increase. If that bar is hit, it would mark the biggest yearly gain since 2005.
But while the backdrop of a stronger economy and chillier weather should give the broader industry a lift, it will also make it clear who's falling behind.
"Not everyone's going to have a good year," Greg Portell, lead partner in the retail practice of A.T. Kearney, told CNBC.
"What'll be interesting this time is that they won't be able to blame the consumer or consumer trends for poor performance," he said, referring to higher consumer confidence readings and lower unemployment. "This is really about how did they execute as merchants and retailers more so than an uncertain economic environment."
As cooler temperatures sweep across the Northeast, one of 2015's most popular excuses — the weather — doesn't hold much water this season. After last year's warm winter forced retailers to slash prices on coats and scarves, temperatures have been more cooperative this December. That, along with leaner inventories, has allowed retailers to sell more cold-weather merchandise at a higher margin.
Apparel stores in markets east of the Mississippi River received a $309 million boost in December thanks to these cooler temperatures, according to Planalytics, a firm that studies the impact of weather on businesses.
"Weather has been a convenient excuse for many retailers the last few years when what was really happening was a fundamental shift in the retail landscape," Steve Barr, PwC's US Retail and Consumer Sector Leader, told CNBC. "The 2016 holiday confirmed that the retailers having challenges will either need to transform, or they will no longer be relevant."