To be sure, the season had multiple fits and starts, with healthy spending during certain periods followed by stretches of tepid sales. Overall, revenue for the combined months of November and December rose 3.1 percent, slightly above of the 3 percent rise the ICSC had predicted.
Sales were weak at the beginning of November in the wake of Superstorm Sandy on the Northeast and the U.S. presidential campaign. Then, there was a surge during the four-day Thanksgiving weekend. Spending fell off after that until a shopping rush around right before and after Christmas when some stores began offering bigger discounts.
Nordstrom, for instance, had a particularly strong December, with revenue at stores open at least a year up 8.6 percent, more than double the 3.4 percent analysts expected. The Seattle-based department store operator said sales were particularly strong in the last week of the season, as shoppers got a full weekend before Christmas, which fell on a Tuesday.
"That last-minute shopping, coupled with post-Christmas bargain hunting and early gift-card redemption helped propel sales at the end of the month," said Michael P. Niemira, ICSC's chief economist.
Kelly Tenedini, 35, had finished her Christmas shopping the week before Christmas, but decided to pick up some "filler" gifts for her mom and her sister on the Sunday before Christmas at the Target in the Edgewood Retail District in Atlanta. Tenedini bought a sweater for her mom and gloves that work with iPhones for her mother and sister. Tenedini, who works in marketing, said the biggest deal she found was online: $50 off a pot and pan set for herself on Target.com.
Manuel Gonzalez, 52, from Manhattan borough of New York City, spent about $150 on the Saturday before Christmas when he went to The Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J. He scooped up bargains, including 75 percent discount on Sketcher sneakers at Macy's.