New York City Retail sales rose 3.4% in December from the year before, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Combined with a 0.9% gain in November, retail sales rose 2.3% to $509.3 billion year-over-year for the two-month holiday period, to $446.8 billion.
The National Retail Federation, which calculates its figures a bit differently, said retail sales during December and November increased 1.1% to $446.8 billion.
Both of the showings omit auto, gasoline and restaurant sales and compare with 2009 holiday sales estimates that generally fell between a 1% drop, which the National Retail Federation predicted, and a 2.6% increase projected by retail consulting and analysis firm Customer Growth Partners.
The numbers follow a 3.4% decline in year-over-year sales during holiday 2008 and indicate that consumers are willing to open their wallets, but only a little bit.
Many retail sectors made a comeback in December after big declines the prior year. Home-furnishings and home-improvement stores fared much better due in part to some signs the housing market may be stabilizing. Apparel was strong, as women released some pent-up demand after making their clothing last for a couple of years.
Online sales, which account for a small but growing amount of retailers' sales, was the only category to see double-digit percentage sales growth during December from a year ago.
Department and general merchandise stores gained 1.9%.
Electronics and appliance store sales dropped 0.7%.
Home furnishings stores fell 3.2%, and home-improvement stores declined 5.5% after dropping by double-digit percentages in the same period last year.
Apparel sales rose 7%, after two down years. Health and personal-care stores continue to be a bright spot in retail with year-over-year December sales increasing 4.8% and monthly gains of 0.8%.
“Today’s retail sales data show that consumers are still waiting for an improved job market before they start spending,” said Phillip Swagel, visiting professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and Retail Industry Leaders Association outside economist.