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ShopperTrak: Holiday sales rose 2.5 percent

NEW YORK (AP) -- Retail sales climbed 2.5 percent for the November and December period, boosted by a last-minute shopping surge, according to the latest measure on holiday spending.

The data from Chicago-based ShopperTrak offers more evidence that the holiday shopping season, which accounts for as much as 40 percent of annual revenue for retailers, was respectable but not robust.

ShopperTrak, which analyzes customer traffic, said Wednesday that shoppers spent $248.8 billion, according to preliminary sales data. Foot traffic was up 2.5 percent for the two-month period as well. The holiday sales gain matched ShopperTrak's forecast that was cut on Dec. 19 from its 3.3 percent growth prediction issued in September.

After a solid spending spree over the Thanksgiving weekend, sales limped along until the final days before Christmas, when stores were forced to discount more than they had planned to woo back shoppers. Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving, was again the top sales day, followed by Dec. 22, the Saturday before Christmas. The third, fourth and fifth biggest sales days were Dec. 23, Dec. 21, and Dec. 15.

“Heavy discounting by retailers at the end of December led to increases in shopper activity across the board,” said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak.

Twenty retailers including Costco Wholesale Corp., and Target Corp. reported on Jan. 3 that revenue at stores open at least a year _ an indicator of a store's health _ rose an average of 4.5 percent in December compared with the same month a year ago, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. That's on the high end of the expected range of 4 percent to 4.5 percent. But analysts say that the index was inflated by Costco's gain of 9 percent. Overall, revenue for the combined months of November and December rose 3.1 percent, according to the mall trade group.

Only a small group of stores that represent about 13 percent of the $2.4 trillion U.S. retail industry report monthly revenue, but the data offers a snapshot of consumer spending.

The government is expected to report retail sales figures for December on Tuesday. The figures cover a wider breadth of stores including consumer electronics and home improvement merchants. The National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group, will release its final holiday sales figure next week that are based on the analysis of the government figures. The group forecasts 4.1 percent growth for the November and December period.

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