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Holiday retail sales rise by 4.9%, report says

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Mastercard study finds biggest annual increase since 2011

NEW YORK — Retail sales this holiday season increased 4.9% compared to last year and set a new record for total dollars spent, according to the Mastercard SpendingPulse study results released on Tuesday. That represents the largest year-over-year increase since 2011, the study found. Online shopping increased by 18.1%.

The SpendingPulse report details holiday shopping that occurred from November 1 through December 24 and it covers retail sales (excluding automotive) across all payment types, including cash and check, Mastercard said.

“Overall, this year was a big win for retail,” said Sarah Quinlan, senior vice president of market insights at Mastercard. “The strong U.S. economy was a contributing factor, but we also have to recognize that retailers who tried new strategies to engage holiday shoppers were the beneficiaries of this sales increase.”

Among the study’s findings:

  • Electronics and appliances sales increased 7.5%, the strongest growth of the last 10 years.
  • The home furniture and furnishings category grew 5.1%, as did home improvement.
  • Specialty apparel and department stores, which both traditionally see the bulk of sales happen in-store, saw moderate gains. This is particularly impressive given recent store closings.
  • Retailers’ heavy early-season promotions paid off, with the first three weeks of November seeing significant jumps.
  • Shoppers were still spending late into the season, with December 23 ranking second only to Black Friday in terms of single-day spending. This late shopping trend was boon to some categories, including jewelry. Jewelry sales grew 5.9%, largely driven by last-minute sales.

The National Retail Federation in October had forecast a retail sales increase of 3.6% to 4% for this holiday season. In mid December the trade group said that retail sales in November had increased 0.9% over October on a seasonally adjusted basis and were up 6% year-over-year unadjusted. Those results suggested that holiday sales were on track to meet the group’s forecast, NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said at the time.

“This has been an impressive start to the holiday season, perhaps the best in the last few years,” Kleinhenz said in a statement on December 14. “The combination of job and wage gains, modest inflation and a heathy balance sheet along with elevated consumer confidence has led to solid holiday spending by American households.”


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