NEW YORK - Packed malls? Healthy gains in holiday spending? It's beginning to look at least a little like a pre-recession Christmas.
Americans spent more on clothing, luxury goods and even furniture, delivering healthy gains across the board, according to MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse, which tracks spending across all transactions including cash. The online category continued to be a bright spot. The big exception was consumer electronics, dragged down by deep discounting of TVs amid a glut. That area was virtually unchanged from a year ago.
"This is the first normal Christmas in three years," said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis for SpendingPulse. He said there is "genuine demand" for a variety of products, even higher-ticket items.
Sales of clothing rose 9.8 percent, with particular strength in men's clothing. Jewelry revenue rose 2.6 percent and furniture rose 3.4 percent, according to SpendingPulse, whose data covered the period from Oct. 31 through Saturday compared with the same period a year ago.
Malls reported higher traffic over the weekend, including the Saturday before Christmas, known as "Super Saturday." It's one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Research firm ShopperTrak expects it will be the third-busiest this year. The lack of any major storms nationwide was a boon for shoppers.
Robin Lewis, CEO of The Robin Report, a retail insiders' newsletter, said the spending stems from three factors: consumers have been paying down their debt slightly, the savings rate has decreased slightly and working hours have increased, partly due to seasonal demand.
"Those three things put a few more bucks in their pocket," which becomes signficant combined with pent-up demand.
Online shopping was going strong as well. On Saturday, online retail spending rose 18 percent, and the average order size rose 4 percent to $169.04 compared to the same day a year ago, according to IBM Coremetrics. As of Friday, shoppers have spent $27.46 billion online since Nov. 1, up 12 percent from last year, according to research firm comScore Inc.