The big gift box under the retail industry’s Christmas tree was full—of cash, according to early data.
U.S. retail sales were up this year 5.1% to more than $850 billion, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, a report from the payment card vendor that looks at consumer purchases from December 1 through 24. It was the strongest performance in six years.
The National Retail Federation had projected that consumers on average had planned to spend $1,007 for decorations, candy, gifts, and other purchases for themselves.
It was also a great year for online retail, with sales jumping 19.1% over 2017, according to the Mastercard study. An example was Amazon (AMZN, +9.62%), which said it saw record global holiday sales. The company claimed that it shipped a billion products for free in the U.S. alone through its Amazon Prime subscription program. It also said that the number of voice-placed orders over its virtual personal assistant Alexa was triple that of last year.
Apparel sales were up 7.9% year over year, showing the best growth since 2010, according to Mastercard (MA, +6.66%). Home improvement sales saw a 9% gain. Home furniture and furnishings saw a 2.3% gain.
But some categories and companies did get a lump of coal in their stockings. Department stores saw a collective 1.3% sales decline, which may be due to store closings. Their online operations did deliver with a 10.2% gain.
And overall sales of electronics and appliances were down 0.7%. According to rumors, the drop had nothing to do with Santa trying to get refrigerators and washing machines down chimneys.