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Retail Forward, the global management consulting and market research firm, has released a study saying that while sales for holiday 2003 were comparatively weak at four percent growth, stronger sales growth is expected during the first quarter of 2004.

In the last quarter of 2003, high end retailing was the only stand-out sector, with most other retail sectors either at the low end of their projections or falling short.

While Retail Forward expects sizeable tax refunds to propel strong retail sales growth for the first quarter of 2004, results from the December 2003 Retail Forward Monthly Shopper Update indicate that this upturn will be most notable starting in February. For January, consumer spending plans point to continued sluggish sales growth, with all but the most upscale consumers maintaining a cautious approach to spending.

Compared to January 2003, survey results indicate that more households overall plan to spend less this month at retail stores (29 percent) than plan to spend more (17 percent). The lowest income households (under $25,000) are particularly cautious, with a full third planning to spend less. Only the highest income households ($100,000 and over) are planning to spend more (24 percent) than less (19 percent) in January.

One bright spot of the holiday season was online retailing. While 60 percent of all respondents bought gifts online this year, even more (84 percent) shopped for gifts online, regardless of whether they bought anything.

For more information about the study, go to:

http:// www.retailforward.com /
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