Holiday Shopping Season Off to Solid Start as Retail Sales Surged in November

American consumers are upping their spending ahead of the holiday shopping season.

According to data released today by the United States Census Bureau, retail sales for November hit $513.5 billion, an increase of 0.2 percent compared with the previous month and 4.2 percent from last year. It marked a crucial month for retailers, with Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales representing a significant chunk of the year’s sales.

The figures, which were primarily offset by lower prices at the pumps, proved even better after excluding volatile categories such as gasoline sales, automobiles, building materials and food services. The Commerce Department reported that core retail sales — an important indicator about the health of the overall economy — handily topped expectations with a 0.9 percent gain last month, following an upwardly revised 0.7 percent improvement in October.

With gas prices dropping nearly 30 cents a gallon to an average of $2.54 by the month’s end, shoppers took some of that extra cash to splurge online. Non-store retailers recorded solid 2.3 percent growth in sales last month, while both department stores and sporting goods stores advanced 0.4 percent. (Clothing accessories stores, however, dipped by 0.2 percent.)

The snapshot follows a July-September period that saw the country’s gross domestic product rise at an annualized rate of 3.5 percent as well as a 49-year low in the unemployment rate at the end of the third quarter. (The report indicated a shift away from traditional brick-and-mortar retail jobs in favor of e-commerce-geared roles.)

The robust reading also comes less than a week before the Federal Reserve’s next meeting, where chair Jerome Powell is expected to announce a hike in interest rates for the fourth time this year. Consumer confidence could also be impacted by the stock market’s unpredictability, stemming from concerns over Washington’s trade war with Beijing as well as a possible end to the decadelong bull market.

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