Retail sales in holiday-related categories such as apparel, electronics and jewelry rose a “decent” 2.3 percent, according to a report Thursday from MasterCard SpendingPulse.
The so-so upswing from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 improved on the comparable period in 2012 and was in line with expectations, researchers said.
Overall sales from all categories rose 3.5 percent.
The growth remained modest due to six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, and stormy weather during the final two weekends of the season — normally key consumption time for last-minute shoppers.
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The jewelry sector was, by MasterCard’s calculations, the top-performing holiday category and one of the few that improved on its performance from 2012.
Spending was boosted by e-commerce, according to Sarah Quinlan, senior vice president of market insights for MasterCard Advisors.
“One clear bright spot is that many consumers who were stuck indoors turned to online shopping to check items off their list,” Quinlan said.
On Christmas Day alone, online sales surged 16.5 percent year over year, according to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark.
Falling store traffic in recent weeks and uneven demand, especially for apparel, spurred chains to risk earnings by pouring on the discounts to generate sales. Retailers including Gap were offering as much as 75 percent off and some, including Macy’s and Kohl’s, were keeping stores open around the clock starting Dec. 20.
The promotions were the most prevalent since 2008, said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners.
“It appears 50 percent off has been the price of entry this year,” Simeon Siegel, an analyst at Nomura, wrote in a note to clients Dec. 24. “Although there will be some holiday-sales winners, very few will escape the discount-driven pressures on margin.”
“You are seeing, ‘It’s OK for me to go out and spend,’ ” Quinlan said. “That being said, they are still being cautious, and they are picking their retailers. It is not hot 2006-2007 spending we are seeing.”
Visits from mobile devices made up a record 48 percent of all online traffic — up 28.3 percent from last year. Tablet users spent $98.61 per order on average while smartphone users shelled out $85.11.
E-commerce giant Amazon.com said it had its best holiday season ever. On Cyber Monday alone, 36.8 million items were ordered worldwide from the site, amounting to 426 items per second, according to the company.
Amazon said that more than a million customers became members of its Prime service in the third week of the month — a new high.
Popular products included tablets such as the Kindle Fire HD, televisions such as the Samsung 32 and laptops such as the ASUS Transformer Book.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.