Mastercard holiday wrap-up report: Holiday sales up 5.5%, strongest increase in five years

Purchase, N.Y. -- A report released Tuesday by MasterCard Advisors said that increased spending in most categories produced a strong holiday season for retailers, with e-commerce and apparel faring the best. Retail sales from Nov. 5 through Dec. 24 rose 5.5% to $584.3 billion over the same period last year, according to MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse. The figures, which exclude auto sales, are ahead of industrywide projections for a 3.3% to 4% rise for the holiday selling season.

“If last year’s holiday story was about gaining some stability, this year’s is about getting back to growth,” said Michael McNamara, VP research and analysis for SpendingPulse.“The 2010 holiday period is categorized by strong year-over-year growth in Apparel and continued strength in eCommerce. We also saw a noticeable return in spending in the larger ticket items, as exemplified by the solid growth in Jewelry, Luxury and even the Furniture category.”

McNamara also noted that the momentum in 2010 holiday season spending appeared to have started as early as the second week of November, producing a month of solid growth and persisting through the traditional early December lull.

“The cold weather across much of the country in December appeared to be a positive for the Apparel sector,” McNamara noted. “While there was some disruptive weather in the Midwest and the West Coast towards the end of the season, the conditions did not seem to negatively impact the national sales momentum. In some cases the weather may have also benefited the e-commerce channel.”

E-commerce was the big winner this year, with seasonal sales up 15.4%, according to the report. Apparel was a strong performing category, growing 11.2% over the 2009 holiday season. Broken down by segment, menswear reached double digit growth weighing in at 10.5% year-over-year. Women’s apparel grew by 5.6%, making for one of the best periods of growth in this subcategory since the financial market turmoil in 2008.

The electronics category was one of the lagging performers, growing 1.2% season-to-season. Jewelry improved during the 2010 season. After a mild start, Jewelry posted several weekly year-over-year increases and ended the season up 8.4%.

The SpendingPulse survey by MasterCard, which reports on national retail and services sales and is based on aggregate sales activity in the MasterCard payments network, coupled with survey-based estimates for all other payment forms, showed that in the Nov. 5 to Dec. 24 period, sales grew 5.5% overall season-over-season (ex-auto).

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