Despite fears to the contrary, it was a decent holiday season for U.S. retailers. Together, they saw a 3.5 percent increase in spending between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24, according to data gathered by MasterCard's SpendingPulse unit. Deep and early discounts helped bolster sales, too, MasterCard said -- a precaution many U.S. retailers took due to the shortened timeframe between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.
So what did shoppers spend money on? MasterCard says the biggest growth categories were jewelry and children's apparel. Meanwhile Amazon, which accounts for about 1/3 of online sales in the U.S. on a normal day, disclosed that jackets -- namely fleece, cotton and polyester jackets from Columbia and Carhartt -- were bestsellers in the women's apparel category, and that Levi's jeans were the top sellers in the men's. Silver was a big seller in jewelry: The top sellers were sterling silver and amethyst flower earrings, a sterling silver "I Love You to the Moon and Back" pendant necklace (now sold out) and a silver Alex and Ani charm bracelet, still available in gold. In women's shoes, Ugg-like shearling boots from Bearpaw were top sellers. Beauty bestsellers were more varied, including the Infiniti Pro by Conair Curl Secret, D&G Light Blue by Dolce & Gabbana's eau de toilette spray and the Olay Pro-X Advanced Cleansing System.
Collectively, the 3.5 percent sales increase seen this holiday matches the growth rate seen between the 2011 and 2012 holiday seasons. Retailers, however, were expecting a slightly bigger jump in sales this year: In October, the National Retail Federation predicted that holiday retail sales would rise 3.9 percent. Sales in the week before Christmas struggled because of weather, however: According to research firm ShopperTrak, in-store traffic was down 21.2 percent between Dec. 16 and Dec. 22, compared to the same timeframe last year. Fortunately, sales weren't as badly damaged, down 3.1 percent during that period.
But it's online retailers who stole the show this season. Together, they saw growth in the double digits throughout the holiday season -- including a 39 percent increase in sales on Thanksgiving Day and a 16.5 percent increase on Christmas Day.