The holiday figures, announced Thursday, follow a report from the Commerce Department that retail sales rose 0.3% in December from the previous month. Excluding sales at car dealers and gas stations, sales rose 0.5%, the best in five months.
The results offer a dose of optimism for the retail industry. Retailers have benefited from a strong economy and a tight job market, but many are struggling to adjust to an increasing shift among its customers toward online. They're also battling the increasing dominance of online behemoth Amazon.com.
Several large stores including Kohl's and Macy's have reported disappointing holiday ales. Target, which has been on a winning streak, also reported a shortfall in its holiday business. A full picture of how consumers spent will be known when retailers report their fiscal fourth quarter results next month.
“This is a strong finish to the holiday season, and we think it's a positive indicator of what's ahead," said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the NRF, in a statement. The numbers exclude sales from automobile dealers, gas stations and restaurants.
Online and other non-store sales were up 14.6% over the prior year and are included in the total. The NRF forecast considers economic indicators such as consumer credit, disposable personal income and monthly retail sales.