Holiday retail sales hit $616.1 billion during a front-loaded shopping season, with national figures showing sales in December slowed compared with November, when shoppers took advantage of deep discounting and early promotions.
The combined sales total for November and December was up 4 percent over 2013, the biggest percentage increase since 2011, National Retail Federation numbers released Wednesday showed, while online and e-commerce sales grew 6.8 percent to $101.9 billion. The holiday season can account for up to 20 percent of annual sales.
The results "are welcome news for our industry and for our economy," NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. "There is every reason to believe that we have moved well beyond the days of consumer pessimism and that the trajectory for retailers continues to point up."
One analyst said Long Island stores saw better sales increases than the national results. Stores here fared a little better than almost any other area, said Marshal Cohen, retail analyst with The NPD Group, a Port Washington-based market research company.
"We tend not be affected by the smaller economic nuisances. We didn't have bad weather," said Cohen, who estimated overall national sales growth at closer to 3 percent and online growth at 23.5 percent.
December retail sales, excluding cars, gasoline and restaurants, were up 4.6 percent year-over-year, but down 0.9 percent compared with November, according to NRF.
Also Wednesday, the U.S. Commerce Department said December retail sales fell to $442.9 billion, a decrease of 0.9 percent from November, but an increase of 3.2 percent compared with December 2013. The Commerce figures include gasoline; the big drop in gas prices during December was a factor in the month-to-month decline.
"Consumers were shopping earlier and buying online more," said Danielle Conte, a Centerport-based retail consultant and founder of customer shopping experience blog YoutailRetail.com. "Perhaps they wanted to beat potentially bad weather . . . and they didn't want to experience shipping delays like the year before," when bad weather and a surge in last-minute online orders meant millions of packages were not delivered by Christmas Eve.
"While December's figures are disappointing, holiday sales [increases] in 2014 are the best we've seen since 2011," NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement. "We . . . expect to see consumers continue to benefit from the extra income gained from an improved job market and the dramatic fall in gas prices."
But Chris Christopher Jr., director of consumer economics at IHS Global Insight, said the pump price relief did not carry over into extra discretionary spending in December.
"Retailers started discounting heavy and hard in early November, even before Black Friday week," Christopher said. "A lot of people got their shopping out of the way by November."
The holiday season saw a big increase in mobile sales as a percentage of online shopping. Total U.S. online sales from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31 were up 13.9 percent over the same period in 2013, according to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark. Mobile sales accounted for 22.6 percent of online sales, an increase of 27.2 percent year over year.