Shoppers pack an aisle during a Black Friday sale at a Target store, Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, in Newport, Ky.
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As customers gear up for the biggest shopping days of the year, retailers face a major headwind: fewer days to shop.
Retailers were dealt the shortest possible holiday calendar scenario this year, with six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than there were last year, which could pressure retailers' top lines.
"This year's holiday calendar is less favorable…which is likely to lead to increased promotions (and profitability pressures)," said Bank of America Merrill Lynch research analyst Robert Ohmes in a note to clients on Wednesday.
The fewer shopping days come from Thanksgiving landing on November 28, as opposed to 2018's date of November 22. The last time this happened was in 2013, and holiday sales growth remained in line with estimates at 2.9% year-over-year, according to Cowen. However, inventory and traffic planning can be a challenge for retailers hoping to cash in on billions of dollars during these prime shopping days.
"Back in 2013 most wholesalers performed OK; however, retailers saw 4Q comps slow," said Wells Fargo in a note back in August titled "5 Reasons We Are Negative On Holiday 2019."
Retailers have been preparing for the condensed shopping days. Stores are stocking more inventory and preparing for higher foot-traffic each day.
"We know its going to be a very intense shopping season. Every day counts," Target CEO and chairman Brian Cornell told CNBC's Becky Quick on Wednesday. Cornell said Target invested $50 million in wages in the holiday season and added additional training for workers.
"We have six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas which to a retailer is a big deal," the world's largest retailer Walmart CEO told Quick on Wednesday. "We'll be doing a lot more volume per day."
Warmer fall weather is another headwind retailers are facing. Kohl's stock tanked on Tuesday after reporting disappointing earnings, blaming "increasingly competitive promotional environment" and warmer weather at the start of the fall season.
Topping $1 Trillion
Despite the shorter calendar, total U.S. holiday retail sales are expected to climb 3.8% to $1.008 trillion this year, the first-ever trillion-dollar holiday season, according to eMarketer.
Bank of America says the shorter calendar will also benefit online sales.
"With a week shorter period between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, deep discounts and faster shipping speeds, we expect an accelerating Online shift this year, driving strong, above-trend online sales during the Cyber 5 weekend," said the firm's research analyst Justin Post in a note to clients on Thursday.
Cyber Monday is once again expected to be the biggest online shopping day in U.S. history, with potential to reach a total of $10 billion, according to eMarketer said in a post.
— with reporting from CNBC's Michael Bloom.