Retail sales during the holiday season rose 5.5% in 2017 to $691.9 billion, exceeding the National Retail Federations forecast of a 3.6%-to-4% increase. Sales at auto dealerships increased by 0.2 percent, while sales at service stations were unchanged.
Despite December's solid numbers, most categories of retailers did better in November than in December. However, many questioned exactly where that increased spending would go.
Early results for the season from Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracked spending through December 24, reported holiday sales grew by 4.9%. General merchandise sales rose 0.1% from November and were up 4.4% for 2017, and department store sales fell 1.1% from November and rose 0.5% year over year.
Last month's sales were supported by a 1.2 percent jump in sales at gardening and building material stores.
Electronics and appliance stores rose 6.7 percent.
"The Dec details show robust increase in furniture, building materials, and non-store retailers, while department stores did badly, with sales down 1.1%".
Health and personal care stores increased 2.2% unadjusted year-over-year. Sporting goods stores lost 1.6 percent in sales for the month.
Friday's results exceeded the holiday forecast by the National Retail Federation of between $678.8 billion and $682 billion, which would have been a rise of 3.6 percent to 4 percent.
"Whether they shopped in-store, online, or on their phones, consumers were in the mood to spend, " Matthew Shay, president and chief executive of the NRF, said in a prepared statement.
Fed officials expected the tax cuts approved by the U.S. Congress would provide "some boost" to consumer spending.
Its analysis released Wednesday showed that overall spending among Philly shoppers in stores grew 4 percent this last holiday season from a year ago. A gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.48 on average in December versus $2.56 in November, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Online spending grew 11.5 percent during the holidays to $138.4 billion. "That just continues to grow, especially among retailers that are embracing the digital transition better than others". "Overall, the underlying secular trends remain with the fast-growing e-commerce sector".