Aided by one extra day in the holiday shopping season, retail spending between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 rose an estimated 3.6% compared with a year earlier, according to the MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse report.
SpendingPulse is an estimate of all national retail and service sales based on aggregate sales activity within the MasterCard payments network. MasterCard Advisors is a consulting firm owned by MasterCard Inc.
As a subset of the total figure, spending on the Internet during the holiday sales period rose 15.5% from a year earlier, according to the report, which was released Monday.
"E-commerce spending continues to grow faster compared to other retail categories, as more people become comfortable shopping online and also shopping online during the holidays," said Kamalesh Rao, director of economic research for MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse.
Overall, sales during the final months of the year point to "a modest recovery" from the recession, Rao said. But minus the additional shopping day in this year's calendar, total retail spending could be readjusted downward 2% to 4%, resulting in "relatively flat" results for the year compared with 2008, he said.
Sales results varied within different retail categories. On the positive side, electronics sales rose 5.9%; jewelry sales, 5.6%; footwear sales, 5%; and men's apparel sales, 3.9%. But women's apparel sales were down 0.3% and nondepartment store sales fell 2.3%.
The uptick in jewelry sales could signal improving consumer confidence, Rao said. "Luxury items and jewelry tend to sell better when the financial sector improves.