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2018 holiday sales soar to 6-year high

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New York - Americans buoyed by a strong economy pushed holiday sales growth to a six-year high.

Retail sales rose 5.1 percent between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 from a year ago, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks spending online and in stores across all payment types, including those who paid by cash or check. Total sales topped $850 billion this year, Mastercard said.

"From shopping aisles to online carts, consumer confidence translated into holiday cheer for retail," said Steve Sadove, a senior adviser at Mastercard and the former CEO of the department store chain Saks.

Online sales continued to grow, up more than 19 percent from a year ago. Last week, Mastercard said online sales made up 13 percent of total retail sales.

Online retail bellwether Amazon reported on Monday that it notched a "record-breaking" holiday sales season, which pushed its stock up around 7 percent by Wednesday afternoon. That helped fuel the S&P 500 stock index's healthy 2 percent-plus rebound on the day, following the drubbing all the major U.S. indexes suffered in Monday's holiday-shortened trading.

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Clothing sold well this year -- up nearly 8 percent from last year, the biggest growth for apparel sales since 2010, Mastercard said. Home furniture sales rose 2.3 percent, while electronics and appliances slipped 0.7 percent.

Shoppers spent less at department stores, which Mastercard said was partly due to store closings. But shoppers did head to the websites of department stores, where sales rose 10.2 percent, Mastercard said. Traditional retailers have been updating their websites and smartphone apps, as well as making it easier for shoppers to buy online and then pick up their items in store.

Today's report from Mastercard follows an earlier forecast from eMarketer in November, in which it said "total retail spending will surpass $1 trillion, while e-commerce will account for $123.73 billion."

eMarketer principal analyst Andrew Lipsman told CBS MoneyWatch last month: "Really, it's the story of strength at brick-and-mortar retail and e-commerce."

When asked how good the 2018 holiday season could turn out for retailers, he said, "I've been following e-commerce and retail spending for 14 holiday seasons now, and if this isn't the best, it's up there with the best."

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