Holiday retail sales are strongest in years: Report

Holiday sales increased for U.S. retailers at the best pace in six years, according to early data.

Total U.S. retail sales, excluding automobiles, rose 5.1% between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 from a year earlier, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks both online and in-store spending with all forms of payment.

Overall, U.S. consumers spent over $850 billion this holiday season, according to Mastercard.

The figures suggest a stock-market swoon and partial government shutdown haven’t curbed consumer confidence and spending, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Sales have been generally strong throughout the holiday season, led by an increase in online shopping.

Retailers entered the holidays with momentum as online sales jumped 26.4 percent from a year earlier between the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through Black Friday, one sign of an early buying surge, according to Adobe Analytics.

Buying slowed in early December in part because an unusually early Thanksgiving made it harder for retailers to sustain sales through the entire holiday shopping period, analysts and consultants said. But shoppers picked up the pace ahead of Christmas.

Since Christmas Eve fell on a Monday, retailers benefitted a last-minute push from shoppers who were counting on the final weekend to wrap up their gift-buying.

Chains including Walmart and Target extended deadlines to get online orders delivered before Christmas, while in some cities offered Prime members the option of free same-day delivery on Christmas Eve.

Many retailers also touted the option to buy online and pick up in store through Christmas Eve. Overall, sales in that category increased 47% from Nov. 1 to Dec. 19, according to Adobe.

Mastercard found that sales from online shopping grew 19.1% between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 compared with the year-earlier period.

Sales at department stores fell 1.3% in the period tracked by Mastercard, in part due to store closings.

Stores that mainly sell apparel, however, experienced robust sales, growing 7.9% during the same period. Overall, sales from bricks-and-mortar stores rose 3.3%.