Holiday retail sales climb, and there’s more shopping ahead

Holiday shoppers
Shoppers carry bags in San Francisco on Nov. 29. Thanksgiving this year was as late as possible, shortening the traditional holiday shopping season.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

More Americans did their shopping online during the shortest holiday shopping season in years, helping to push total sales higher.

U.S. retail sales from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 rose 3.4% compared with last year, according to early data from Mastercard SpendingPulse.

Online sales rose at a faster pace, up 18.8% from last year. Online shopping made up nearly 15% of total retail sales.


Mastercard SpendingPulse tracked spending online and in stores across all payment types, including cash and check. Sales of automobiles were not included.

Faced with the shortest gap between Thanksgiving and Christmas — and therefore the shortest traditional holiday shopping season — since 2013, stores were trumpeting deals even before Halloween in hopes of getting people to think ahead.

Thanksgiving landed on Nov. 28 this year, the latest possible date it could fall. That meant six fewer days than last year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and last-minute shoppers scrambled. The Saturday before Christmas was the busiest shopping day in U.S. history, surpassing Black Friday, according to research firm Customer Growth Partners. Inc., which stepped up its one-day deliveries this year, said more people tried out its $119-a-year Prime membership this year than any other year: The online shopping giant said it gained more than 5 million new customers in a single week. Prime members get faster shipping and other perks, such as movie streaming.

Overall, Mastercard said, clothing sales rose 1%. Jewelry sales increased 1.8%. Sales of electronics and appliances rose 4.6%. And furniture sales grew 1.3%.

Department stores, which have been hit hard by the rise of online shopping, still had trouble getting shoppers in their doors: Total sales fell 1.8%, Mastercard said.


But Christmas Day does not signal the end of the effort to attract shoppers.

Retailers are all but certain to offer steep discounts through at least New Year’s Day in hopes of snaring those who did not get all they had hoped for in the shortened holiday shopping season, said C. Britt Beemer, chief executive of the consumer behavior firm America’s Research Group.

“You’re going to see a bunch of larger crowds in the stores,” Beemer said.