Holiday sales climb 3.5% from year earlier

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

NEW YORK — Americans waited until the last minute to buy holiday gifts, but retailers were not prepared for the spike.

Heavy spending in the final days of the mostly lackluster season sent sales up 3.5 percent between Nov. 1 and Tuesday, according to MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse. It tracks payments but does not give dollar figures.

Sales were strongest in jewelry and children’s apparel. Online shopping led the uptick, with spending up 10 percent to $38.91 billion between Nov. 2 and Sunday, the research firm comScore said.

The overall growth remained modest because there were six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year and weather was stormy the final two weekends of the season.

“One clear bright spot is that many consumers who were stuck indoors turned to online shopping to check items off their list,” said Sarah Quinlan, senior vice president of market insights for MasterCard Advisors. On Christmas Day alone, online sales surged 16.5 percent year over year, according to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark.

Visits from mobile devices made up a record 48 percent of all online traffic, up 28.3 percent from last year. Tablet users spent $98.61 per order on average; smart-phone users shelled out $85.11.

The last-minute orders complicated things for some people.

“We always have last-minute Charlies, but this year even people who normally complete shopping earlier completed shopping later,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at the market research firm NPD Group.

The late surge caught some companies off guard. UPS and FedEx failed to deliver some packages before Christmas. They cited poor weather and overloaded systems.

Analysts say FedEx and UPS typically work closely with big retailers to get a sense of the volume of packages coming during peak times. Extra flights, trucks, and seasonal workers can be added if the projections are large.

Amazon is offering customers with delayed shipments a refund on their shipping charges and $20 toward a future purchase.

The last-minute surge this year solidified the increasing popularity of online shopping.