Consumers spent actively on lodging and restaurants during the holiday season, while sales of electronics were flat, reflecting an ongoing shift toward spending on "experiences" rather than goods, MasterCard said in a holiday spending report.
Overall retail sales grew 5.5 percent during the period from "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving, through Dec. 24 compared with a year earlier. MasterCard said the growth was in line with its forecast for the holiday season and underscored the impact of an improving U.S. economy.
MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse tracks spending during the holiday season by combining aggregate sales activity in its own credit card payments network with estimates of other payment forms including cash and checks.
Sarah Quinlan, a senior vice president at MasterCard, said casual dining and lodging were among the strongest categories, posting double-digit and nearly double-digit year-on-year sales growth, respectively, from Black Friday through Dec. 24, .
The data highlighted a continuing trend of "the consumer wanting experience" over goods. The "economy is very strong but they are spending in a different way," Quinlan told Reuters after the report was released.
Contrary to the predictions of some experts, electronics was not a strong category, with sales "basically flat" from Black Friday to Dec. 24 and in negative territory when looking at sales starting on Nov. 1.
Apparel posted single-digit growth overall, with women's clothing particularly strong since Black Friday with mid single-digit growth. But Quinlan said it was not clear if the apparel sales growth would translate into profits due to heavy discounting.
"The question for retailers is did they plan to do the discounting to deliver the growth," she said.
Other strong categories were furniture, which Quinlan said highlighted growing consumer confidence in the economy, and jewelry, with sales growth in the mid single digits from Black Friday through Christmas Eve.