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Brisk "Mega Monday" business buoys retailers

Across America, Dec. 26 has become as much about buying as it is about returning.

This year, good weather and a three day weekend helped draw in shoppers, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller.

Monday was "a huge spending day," according to Craig Johnson of Customer Growth Partners. "We think, overall, $29 billion (was spent) ... which may be bigger than 'Black Friday."'

Johnson predicts consumers will rack up over a half-trillion dollars in sales.

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"We think it looks pretty good for sustained spending growth for the consumer," he explains, "because consumers are basically much healthier than they were a few years ago," he explains "They've de-levereged. They've brought consumer credit down by 20 percent in terms of what they borrow."

Through mid-December, online sales tallied $32 billion, a 15 percent increase from a year ago, says CMO/Comscore.

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"We've had about 10 individual days of over a billion dollars in sales; that compares to one day that hit that threshold last year," points out CMO/Comscore's Linda Abraham.

And a record $28 billion in gift cards were sold this year.

Monday was "a huge self-gifting day," Johnson observes. " ... If you're using a gift card, it's like using other people's money, so you don't mind paying full-price."

Consumers are expected to bring back 46 billion dollars worth of gifts this week, equating to ten percent of all holiday sales.

Despite the improved numbers, two experts cautioned on "The Early Show" Tuesday that the economy isn't out of the woods yet.

"I think we are in a better place (than we were last year at this time)," says Jack Otter, executive editor of CBS, "but still, the number one problem facing our economy is lack of demand. We were on a sugar high, when people were borrowing money from their houses, from their credit cards, buying stuff they couldn't afford. So now, the economy is like a sweater that's too big for us -- we have to grow into it. Real demand has to grow to fit that old economy that was bigger than the one we have now. So if consumers are able to go out and spend without overextending themselves, that's a great sign for 2012."

And Fortune magazine Assistant Managing Editor Leigh Gallagher said, "It's easy to read too much into the holiday sales figures. There was certainly a lot of activity. But, it's a little too early to tell whether that's gonna move the needle. There were a lot of returns, there have been some increases in prices, so that's impacting things.

"There is pent-up demand. People want to believe things are getting better. We've actually seen a couple signs on the domestic economic front that are positive in the past month or two. So, I think there's a little bit more enthusiasm than there has been in the past few years around this time. But ... the bigger picture is a little bit more wait-and-see."