NEW YORK – Holiday shoppers are racing to the end of the season at a more feverish pace this year, with retail revenue up 5.5 percent during the last weekend before Christmas.
The figure, released by ShopperTrak on Wednesday, is a drastic improvement from the same weekend last year, when revenue dropped 6.2 percent because a big East Coast snowstorm closed malls and kept shoppers at home.
This year's improvement is especially encouraging for retailers, for whom a big weekend all but sealed a shopping season of healthy revenue gains.
ShopperTrak reported shoppers spent $18.83 billion Dec. 17-19. That includes $7.58 billion spent on what retailers call "Super Saturday" — the Saturday before Christmas. The number of shoppers rose 3 percent over the weekend before Christmas last year.
ShopperTrak expects retail spending to rise 4 percent for the holiday season. It fell 0.4 percent during the 2009 season. Anything over 4 percent is considered a healthy gain.
The final days leading up to Christmas are important for retailers. Some do a third of their annual business during the season. The final countdown to Christmas is especially important. ShopperTrak estimates that the 10 days before Christmas usually make up 31 percent to 34 percent of holiday-season retail revenue.
Consumers appeared to be in the mood to hit just one location for their shopping needs, with Thomson Reuters reporting that traffic at malls was higher on Super Saturday than a year ago.
But ShopperTrak anticipates this Thursday will likely edge out Super Saturday to become the second-biggest sales day this season behind Black Friday, as last-minute shoppers scramble to pick up gifts. Black Friday sales were $10.69 billion, according to ShopperTrak.
The Walking Co. store at Circle Centre Mall in downtown Indianapolis has seen a steady flow of customers.
"We're at least breaking even with where we were last year, if not better," manager Robert Stapleton said.
Recent data from MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse, which tracks spending across all transactions including cash, shows Americans were spending more on clothing, luxury goods and even furniture during the period from Oct. 31 through Saturday.
Online spending has also been strong. As of Friday, shoppers have spent $27.46 billion online since Nov. 1, up 12 percent from a year ago, according to research firm comScore Inc.
Improved spending is also a sign that the economy may be regaining its footing.
The Commerce Department reported earlier this month that November retail sales rose 0.8 percent, marking the fifth straight monthly gain. Department stores led the way with a 2.8 percent gain, the biggest for this category since a 3 percent increase in November 2008.
Retailers are expected to have a strong December, with Thomson Reuters predicting that revenue at stores open at least a year will be up 3.6 percent on average for the month. Discount stores like Target Corp. and BJ's Wholesale Club Inc. are expected to do well, along with teen clothing retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and Zumiez Inc.
This figure is a key gauge of a retailer's health because it measures results at existing stores instead of newly opened ones.
AP Business Writer Tom Murphy contributed to this story from Indianapolis.