Holiday sales jumped 5.5 percent compared with last year, marking the largest jump seen since the end of the Great Recession, the National Retail Federation said Friday.
Total sales for November and December were $691.9 billion, exceeding the industry trade group's forecast of between $678.75 billion and $682 billion, which would have been an increase of between 3.6 and 4 percent.
"We knew going in that retailers were going to have a good holiday season but the results are even better than anything we could have hoped for," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said.
Economists and advisors had expected robust spending across the board due to strong employment and consumer confidence. However, many questioned exactly where that increased spending would go.
Over the holidays, the strongest performers were building materials and supply stores (8.1 percent growth ), furniture (7.5 percent growth) and electronics (6.7 percent growth). Clothing/accessories and health/personal care clocked in weaker growth, up 2.7 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively.
Sporting good stores were the one area where the industry posted a decline, with sales down 0.5 percent. The industry has been under pressure as shoppers can buy sporting goods at big-box stores and online. Dick's Sporting Goods stock is down roughly 43 percent since December 2016. Several retailers in the category have gone bankrupt such as Sports Authority and Gander Mountain.