The 4-5-4 retail calendar begins its fiscal year in February and structures months into a 4-week, 5-week, and 4-week format, starting each week on Sunday and ending on Saturday.
The design of the 4-5-4 retail calendar allows for a more precise comparison of sales data between different years by ensuring an equal number of weekends and a more even number of holidays in each comparable month. It also enables a more direct comparison of specific days—for instance, comparing all Mondays across different years.
Use our free 4-5-4 calendars to compare year-over-year retail sales:
Sales Releases (highlighted with light blue boxes in the calendar above): The Census Bureau usually releases these official reports on the first Thursday of every month, though they can be issued more frequently at times. They measure the fluctuations in the total value of sales at retail stores, serving as a primary indicator of consumer spending habits.
How to Use a 4-5-4 Retail Calendar
The 4-5-4 retail calendar is an essential tool for retailers aiming to track and compare their sales performance accurately. Here’s a basic guide on how to use a 4-5-4 retail calendar:
Understanding the 4-5-4 Structure
A 4-5-4 calendar differs from the standard calendar by organizing the business year into more comparable periods of exactly 4-week and 5-week months. This setup ensures a steady number of weekends and weekdays each month, making the comparison of sales data more consistent from year to year. It also makes the retail budgeting process easier by allowing for more predictable planning of income and expenditures.
4-5-4 calendars also ensure that more of the same holidays are in the same months between years. This consistency helps retailers plan for and compare holiday sales and promotions more effectively, as it keeps the timing of holiday-related consumer behavior consistent for year-over-year comparison.
The 53-week Year
The 4-5-4 calendar is divided into 52 weeks of seven days each, or 364 days in total. This leaves an extra day to be accounted for each year (in addition to extra days from leap years).
For this reason, it is sometimes necessary to add a 53rd week to the end of the retail calendar for reporting purposes. Roughly every 5-6 years, we get a 53-week year—such as 2006, 2012, 2017, and 2023.
You can use the 4-5-4 calendar to compare your business’ sales performance on a variety of levels.
For example, you could compare February of this year to February of last year. Because each of these months contains the same number of weekends, weekdays, and holidays, the comparison is far more accurate and meaningful than that made with a traditional calendar.
Or you can use it to compare sales on a specific day of the year. As you can see, the first day of the April 2022 calendar is the 3rd, and the first day of the April 2023 calendar is the 2nd. Since both of these days were Sundays in their respective years, the comparison should be apt.
Each quarter on the 4-5-4 calendar is also congruent. They all contain two 4-week months and one 5-week month. This allows you to accurately measure quarterly growth within a fiscal year as well as compare quarters or seasons year over year.
As you go through each day of 2023 and set sales goals, you will refer back to the 2022 4-5-4 calendar to see what days you should be comparing from the previous year. The idea here is that the previous year’s sales are a good benchmark for your performance the following year and offer a good point of comparison. Most businesses strive to grow year over year, so you should strive not just to meet last year’s sales number but surpass it.
For example, in my store, we took the sales figures from the year before and increased them by 10% to set our current-year sales goals. So, if my store made $1,000 on December 3, 2022, our sales goal for December 2, 2023, would be $1,100.
Planning Promotions & Marketing
The 4-5-4 calendar is also useful in conjunction with your retail marketing calendar for planning sales promotions or marketing campaigns. Since the 4-5-4 calendar allows for comparing like days (Mondays with Mondays, for instance), you can gain insights about which days of the week perform best for particular promotions—thus informing future campaign planning.
Plus, by better understanding the sales trends of specific periods (such as certain weeks, months, or quarters), you can schedule promotions to boost sales during historically slower times. Similarly, you can capitalize on traditionally busy times by planning major promotions or campaigns during periods.
Managing Inventory & Merchandising
The 4-5-4 calendar can also help optimize your merchandising strategy and open-to-buy planning (a system for managing retail inventory).
One of the key benefits of using a 4-5-4 retail calendar is that it offers a predictable structure for assessing and responding to buying patterns. By breaking the year down into consistent periods that contain the same number of weekends and weekdays (along with more comparable holidays), you can better predict when customers are most likely to make purchases. This lets you strategically adjust your inventory levels to meet seasonal demand.
It also allows you to more accurately measure the performance of specific product lines or categories over time. This can help with merchandising efforts and provide key insights into the best timing for introducing new products or phasing out old ones.
Pros & Cons of 4-5-4 Retail Calendars
The 4-5-4 calendar has a lot to offer retailers, but there are a few drawbacks as well. At the end of the day, the pros that come with using a retail calendar outweigh the cons—which is why it’s an industry standard. Being able to keep your business on track with apt comparisons of your sales data is pivotal for keeping your business on an upward trajectory.
|Ensures fair comparison of sales figures between years||Different month lengths make comparing month-over-month data inaccurate|
|Enables realistic goal-setting||Some months will see two sets of “monthly” payments (e.g., rent, utilities, and payroll)|
|Keeps your business on track with measured, day-by-day incremental increases||Monthly budget fluctuations due to variable lengths|
|Provides a strong understanding of the performance and expectations you should have||53-week year every five to seven years gives one year an extra week of revenue|
|Aids in marketing, merchandising, and inventory planning|
4-5-4 Retail Calendar Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Expand the questions below to get answers to some of your most pressing questions.
The 4-5-4 calendar is a type of retail calendar, or annual calendar, that accurately compares sales figures between years, whereas a standard calendar divides months into 28- to 31-day periods as opposed to the 4-5-4 week format. This means that in a standard calendar months are more variable across years in terms of what days of the week they include, making year-over-year sales comparisons more difficult.
In general, there are two major kinds of retail calendars. There is the 4-5-4 calendar, which we looked at in this article, and the 4-4-5 calendar. The idea behind the latter is that you divide the year into four 13-week quarters, broken down into 4 weeks-4 weeks-5 weeks (91 days total). This format also allows you to make accurate comparisons between years. The major difference is that the 4-4-5 calendar lets you better compare quarterly performance within the year.
Most commonly, 4-5-4 calendars are used among retailers of all types, but especially in the fashion industry. You will also find some manufacturers use the 4-5-4 calendar, although that is not as commonplace.
Dividing the calendar into the 4-5-4 format leaves you with 364 days each fiscal year. This means that every six to seven years, there is a week added to the calendar to make up for the lost days. This 53-week year has occurred in 2012, 2017, and 2023.
The 4-5-4 calendar starts in February for two major reasons:
- It allows the major end-of-the-year holidays and holiday returns to stay in the same fiscal year. It also lets retailers start their new fiscal years fresh, with no lingering holiday items to attend to.
- It makes the 4-5-4 calendar align better with seasonal fashion cycles (i.e., February is the start of spring fashion and the start of the calendar, and January is the end of winter fashion and the end of the calendar).
A 4-5-4 retail calendar makes it easier to compare sales year-over-year, plan, and set reasonable goals. It better aligns holidays and ensures the same number of non-weekdays in comparable months. Our free 2022–2024 4-5-4 retail calendar download can help you get your business on the right track.