By MARC KOVAC
Dix Capital Bureau
COLUMBUS -- Falling unemployment rates and rising consumer confidence are expected to help boost retail sales during the coming holiday season, according to a new forecast released Monday by a state business group.
The Ohio Council of Retail Merchants and the University of Cincinnati's Economic Center are projecting a 4.2 percent increase in retail spending in November and December, with an estimated $14.7 billion in total sales. The total will amount to about one-fifth of the state's 2012 spending totals.
After many households reduced their debt in recent years, retailers think there is some pent-up demand for electronics and other big-ticket items consumers have been putting off buying. The UC forecasters say surveys indicate popularly desired gifts, too, are cash and gift cards.
The study anticipates taxable Ohio retail sales of nearly $15 billion for November and December. The biggest portion will be in Columbus metro area, which forecasters expect to see increase 7.5 percent in holiday retail sales. That's followed by a 5.7 percent hike forecast in Akron, 3.9 percent for Dayton, 3.8 in Cincinnati, 3.6 percent in both Cleveland and Toledo, and 3.4 percent for Youngstown.
"Consumers are much more optimistic about the overall economy than they have been in the past three years," said Jeff Rexhausen, associate director of research at UC's Economic Center.
The National Retail Federation projects that the average consumer will spend a total of nearly $750 this holiday season, up from about $740 last year. More than half of that total ($421.82) will be on gifts for family members. Gift cards remain the most requested present.
"We've seen this pattern of cautious optimism all year and despite the challenges that still exist in our economy, it looks as if consumers are eager to celebrate with friends and family," Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer of the National Retail Federation, said in a released statement. "As the most promotional time of the year, retailers will continue to look for ways to stand out, specifically with attractive deals on toys, electronics and apparel, even well before the 'official' start of the holiday shopping season -- Black Friday and Cyber Monday."
The Ohio study's authors cautioned that a spike in gas prices or lingering uncertainty about the federal fiscal cliff could hamper sales.
Additionally, the study projected that nearly half (45 percent) of Ohio consumers would make some of their holiday purchases online, up from 35 percent two years ago. That could cost Ohio retailers about $167 million in sales and state and local governments more than $51 million in sales tax collections, the groups estimated.
Associated Press contributed to this report