Holiday sales estimated at highest level post-recession

“Variables including an upcoming presidential election, confusion surrounding the fiscal cliff and concern relating to future economic growth could all combine to affect consumers’ spending plans," he said, "but overall we are optimistic that retailers promotions will hit the right chord with holiday shoppers.”

Retailers are expected to add between 585,000 and 625,000 seasonal workers, in line with the 607,500 hired last year.

Meanwhile, forecasts that online holiday sales will expand 12 percent over last year to as much as $96 billion.

Recent economic indicators show that poor jobs numbers and stagnant income growth could weigh on the results.  

However, the housing market is showing more consistent signs of recovery, consumers are more confident and they are showing savvy in preparing their balance sheets for long-term success. 

Pam Goodfellow, director of BIGinsight Consumer Insights, said her group is seeing an increase in purchases of necessities and a trend that consumers will avoid impulse buys, are paying down their debt and increasing their savings to prepare for holiday spending. 

"Consumers are working all the angles to make their budgets work," she said. 

Jack Kleinhenz, NRF's chief economist, called the holiday forecast a "very pragmatic look at what to expect this year given the current rate of economic growth."

He said consumers are in a "high anxiety state" that he doesn't expect to dissipate.

The final results rest with what happens in the next month or two, he stressed. 

Faster job growth, increases in wages and gas prices and even the weather can weigh on holiday sales. 

"The consumer is resilient and they could get some lift on the backs of higher employment and some wage growth," he said. 

"If that happens, we will probably will revisit the forecast."