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Shoppers make a holiday comeback

By Blake Ellis, contributing writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- An initial report on the holiday shopping season issued Monday showed a solid year-over-year gain, both in stores and online.

The report from MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse data service showed a 3.6% increase in retail sales in the period from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24. That compared with a 2.3% drop in last year's report, which was based on charges rung up on MasterCard credit cards as well as a survey of sales made by cash or check.

While holiday shoppers may have waited longer to pick out gifts this year, they ended up spending more during the holiday season both in stores and online, a report Monday showed.

"Overall this year, we have seen increasing stability in spending, as opposed to the freefall of 2008," Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis for SpendingPulse, said in a statement.

McNamara said an extra shopping day this year may have helped sales. He also said this year's shopping season didn't really take off until after Black Friday, making December look better.

The big late-season snow storms in the Northeast and Midwest may have given a lift to online sales at the same time they crippled mall and department store activity, according to McNamara.

"There was a better equilibrium between consumer demand, promotions and overall price level," said Richard Hastings, consumer strategist at Global Hunter Securities. "The [retail] industry did a very good job, and it's getting better."

Hastings believes his prediction of a 2.5% sales jump for the November-January period is on target, given the positive SpendingPulse report.

"Eighty percent of the civilian workforce is still working, and about half of that has very good buying power," said Hastings.

While there is still vulnerability in the housing market, spending conditions are improving, he added.

While the period up to Dec. 24 was positive, the post-Christmas sales period may be even better, according to Hastings.

"The positioning of Christmas closer to the weekend was also very favorable," said Hastings. "Basically you're setting up for a duplication of a Black Friday type of model."

What people bought: Online retailers fared the best this season, with a spike of 15.5% between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24, according to SpendingPulse.

Since Black Friday, Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving, e-commerce sales were up 18%, and sales have risen every week since the beginning of the season, the report showed.

Electronics sales rose 5.9% from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 and 6% in the period from Black Friday to Dec. 24, SpendingPulse said. Jewelry sales increased 5.6% during the holiday season, and luxury retail sales were up 0.8% from last year.

Specialty apparel was down just 0.4% this season, and women's apparel dropped 0.3%, according to SpendingPulse. Men's apparel sales did better, climbing 3.9%. To top of page

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