Holiday shoppingShoppers did their part this holiday season, spending more on clothes, jewelry and luxury items than last year, according to new sales tallies.

Retail sales from Nov. 5 through Dec. 24 were up 5.5% above the same period in 2009, according to MasterCard SpendingPulse, which tracks purchases by credit card, cash and other payment systems. That's better than many analysts had estimated. The National Retail Federation, which hasn't released its holiday totals yet, upgraded its forecast in mid-December to 3.3% from 2.3% after November sales came in far stronger than originally expected.

"Overall, it's a positive story this year," says Michael McNamara, vice president of SpendingPulse. "Most of the numbers are coming in at least at the high end of expectations."

"A Bounce-Back Year for Apparel"

For example, he noted apparel sales were up a strong 11.2% year-over-year. However, McNamara cautioned that apparel has a relatively easy comparison to last year, when sales were flat, after losing 7% in 2008. But sales also benefited from cold weather in most of the country during December, which helped move more expensive cold-weather gear such as coats and boots. "This was a bounce-back year for apparel," McNamara says.

Other nonessential gifts also did quite well, including jewelry, which rose 7.2% year-over-year, and other luxury items, which were up 6.7%. But again, McNamara cautions that those numbers are still below the prerecession peak. Jewelry, for example, remains 8.9% below where it was in 2007's holiday season, before the recession began.

On the weaker side, electronics sales were up only 1.2%, despite the interest in video consoles such as Microsoft's (MSFT) new Kinect system and e-book readers such as Amazon's (AMZN) Kindle. The drop was mainly due to lower prices for TVs, which are the big-ticket items in the segment. "You really need the TV sector to do well," says McNamara. "If TV prices are declining, you have to sell a whole lot more units to make up."

One area showing unequivocal growth is e-commerce, where sales rose 15.4% during the season. The online sector had been showing double-digit growth rates for some time, but the pace of expansion this season is different from a few years ago because it also shows the segment maturing and taking market share from the bricks-and-mortar merchants. "You're talking about material gains from the sales standpoint," says McNamara.

While the totals don't bring numbers back to prerecession levels, it shows a marked improvement over the past couple of years, especially the spending on nonessentials. Retail still needs employment to improve to show some real growth, but the industry appears to have hit bottom and resumed growth. Says McNamara: "We're going in the right direction."

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Robert & Lisa

When you understand the signs, you'll understand the times. Evil, ultra rich man, George Soros has bought and paid for the corrupt Demoncrats who are doing his bidding. Guess who's footing the bill.

December 28 2010 at 6:51 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Robert & Lisa

People are spending what little money they have knowing it will be worth far less next year. Thanks to evil, ultra rich man, George Soros's puppets, Obama and the corrupt Demoncrats.

December 28 2010 at 6:41 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Just throw out CREDIT CARD completly out of the system....and we will be ok after that...

December 28 2010 at 4:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is a rediculous story as spending money we don't have doesn't help the economy. Stop spending people. We also need to have a boycott of gasoline for a week. Stop filling up your tanks for a week folks.

December 28 2010 at 2:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

why do we keep getting news stories that are not news? they could have phrased it more accurately--"holiday sales not nearly as miserable this year as they were last year" the sad part is much of it is just a run up of debt. folks are sufferering consumption withdrawal, have reduced debt, and now are just going to run it back up.

December 28 2010 at 1:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Look, we all have a vested interest in making people feel better about the economy since confidence is sorely needed at this time. However, wgen you give people false hope you are setting them up for a later fall, and that fall could be the "big" one.

December 28 2010 at 11:43 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Are you sure this reflects an actual increase in consumer purchases or an increase in the prices at retail? In our part of the country (Northern California) we saw much higher "sale" prices than last year.

As a side note - be sceptical of good news during these times. Its not that people are lying, just that they are reporting info at face value (because they want good news) rather than analyzing the true causes.

December 28 2010 at 11:38 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to willmk's comment

amen, and these writers are not going to write stories that will yield a paycheck.

December 28 2010 at 1:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

not yield a paycheck

December 28 2010 at 1:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

With Millions of home forclosed or in foreclosure it is not surprising that Retail sales are up. All the Millions that are not using their money making mortgage payments are using the money to spend on retail shopping. I am surprised that it was not an even larger increase.

December 28 2010 at 10:24 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

good attitude

December 28 2010 at 4:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Anyone can go out and buy on credit and if I remember correctly, these same people will NOT pay their crdit card bills. Nothing exciting there, now is there? Plus 75% of this junk will be returned to the stores after Christmas. Big deal.

December 28 2010 at 3:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply