Most retail experts see more moderate sales growth in this still-new year, but there are some forces pulling in both directions for and against better retailing.

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John Holub, president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association predicts a 3 percent retail sales growth in the state, mirroring national gains.

"Any growth, I think, is welcome, considering the economic environment that still exists, post 2008-2009," Holub said.

Holub cites a brighter jobs picture and cheaper gas as two factors for retail sales improvements. He also says consumers have been holding on to their money, as retailing only counted 2 percent and 3 perent gains in the past few years.

"So I think that there is definitely some pent-up demand," he said.

But the economic news has not been all good lately. Wall Street has had a rough ride since the start of the year, with the stock markets losing ground.

"That is certainly a concern. I mean, for every good economic indicator out there, there are some that are troublesome, and Wall Street is definitely one of them. It continues to have quite a bumpy ride, and that cuts into consumer confidence, and that is where people are questioning whether they should pocket that money or whether they should go out and spend it," he said.

And there is another big factor that is changing the face of retailing and having an influence of retail strategy. Simply stated, it is consumer bargain-hunting..

"We live in a very different economic world," Holub said. "The consumer is extremely price-conscious."

Holub expects to see more retail activity this spring, especially in home improvement items sales from stores like Home Depot and Lowe's.

"That is kind of like the Black Friday for a lot of the home improvement stores, when people start buying flowers and mulch for their homes, that is a very big and important time for that industry, that specific retail category," he said.

He added that retailers are also taking encouragement from a recent national event, the Super Bowl. According to Holub, they did see what he calls, "some pretty encouraging numbers, people buying new TVs, that is a relatively big ticket item."

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