The holidays were 'a big win' for struggling retailers as sales soared

Retailers had a very happy holiday.

Retail sales from November 1 through Christmas Eve were up 4.9% over last year, according to data from Mastercard SpendingPulse. That's the highest rate of growth since 2011. 

That number was given a strong boost by online sales, which were up 18.1% over the season. Much of this growth was due to the new ease of shopping online later in the season, as more last-minute shipping options have become available. Last year, online sales grew 18.9%.

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9 most expensive shopping streets in America
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9 most expensive shopping streets in America

9. Walnut Street — Philadelphia

Like many other cities, Philadelphia has gotten a retail boost from e-commerce-based brands that have opened stores in major shopping areas. The rent on Walnut Street averages $125 per square foot a year. 

8. Newbury Street — Boston

Boston's famous shopping street also has stores from e-commerce-based brands, but it's famous in its own right. That's good enough to command $130 per square foot in rent per year.

7. Worth Avenue — Palm Beach

Palm Beach's pricey boutiques also have pricey rent. It costs an average of $145 a square foot per year to rent on the main street, Worth Avenue.

6. Penn Quarter — Washington, DC

Washington, DC's Penn Quarter is one of the most dynamic sectors of the city. Its rents are the highest too, costing $205 a square foot per year.

5. Lincoln Road — Miami

Miami's Lincoln Road pedestrian shopping area has the ability to attract a crowd. It also attracts renters with a going rate of $300 a square foot per year.

4. North Michigan Avenue — Chicago

Chicago has spruced up its famous North Michigan Avenue shopping district and given it a new coat of paint. Anchored by a redeveloped riverfront that features a new Apple Store, rents go for around $550 a square foot per year.

3. Union Square — San Francisco

San Francisco's retail rents are high like its residential rents. In third place, it would cost $700 per square foot a year to have a store in the famed shopping area of Union Square.

2. Rodeo Drive — Los Angeles

Rodeo Drive's iconic store cluster remains as relevant as ever, making it good for the second slot. It demands $875 a square foot per year.

1. Upper 5th Avenue — New York City

New York is still the top when it comes to retail rents. On Fifth Avenue, between 49th and 60th Streets, rents go for $3,000 a square foot per year.

Fifth Avenue is home to flagship stores of many international luxury and mid-tier brands. Its global prominence hasn't wavered in the storm of what's going on with retail.

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"This year was a big win for retail," Sarah Quinlan, senior vice president of market insights at Mastercard, said in a statement. "The strong US economy was a contributing factor, but we also have to recognize that retailers who tried new strategies to engage holiday shoppers were the beneficiaries of this sales increase."

Mastercard compiles data from both online and offline stores, using every type of payment.

In terms of overall spending, Black Friday and December 23 — also known as Super Saturday — were the biggest days. Strong sales on Black Friday gave an early indication of a merry holiday for stores, but earlier promotions in November also helped boost sales for the season.

Mastercard saw "significant jumps" in the first three weeks of the month, according to a press release from the company. Online sales from November 1 through 22 totaled almost $30.4 billion this year, accounting for nearly 18% year-over-year growth, according to Adobe Analytics. 

Electronics and appliances saw a 7.5% jump in sales, boosted by a growth in smart home products like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, according to Mastercard. That's the largest increase in electronics sales in a decade.

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6 rules to follow when shopping online
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6 rules to follow when shopping online
1. Make sure that the website you are ordering from is secure
"Many websites will have a seal at the bottom stating that the website is indeed secure and will not make your information public under any circumstances. A site that has 'https://' at the beginning of their web address as well as a padlock symbol is typically a site to trust." -My Broken Coin
2. Search for product reviews beforehand
"Returning items to online stores can be a major hassle. So why not find out what others think of the product before you purchase it online? For example, before buying a new laptop, search for comments and complaints associated with the brand. If there are more negative reviews than positive, and the same problem is reoccurring, then it may not be a brand worth investing in. This will save yourself from buying something that would have to be returned to the store soon after receipt." -My Broken Coin
3. Look for promo codes before checking out
"Who doesn't like saving money, especially on necessities? Almost every retailer will have some sort of promotion available, so ensure you look for one before purchasing. You may not find every code useful or relevant to your purchase, but there are plenty out there that could save you money. So, before you check out ensure you search your retailer for voucher codes and see how much you could save." -My Broken Coin
5. Check and double check your shopping cart
"When shopping online, it's incredibly easy to get side-tracked and accidentally add things into your shopping cart. For example, you may double click on an item and not notice that you've order two of it until it's too late. As well as this, if you've visited a site before but abandoned your cart before purchasing, the site will sometimes have saved your items when you visit again. Thus, it's incredibly important that you double check what you're buying." -My Broken Coin
6. Track your order
"Many sites give you the option to track you orders. This is especially handy when you need your order by a specific date (before Christmas, in time for a birthday party, etc.). Stay on-top of your order's location at all times, including the cities that it is arriving in and departing from every day. A lot of online trackers go through FedEx or UPS and are typically very accurate." -My Broken Coin
4. Price-match whenever possible
"Price-matching and price-comparison is the one of the best strategies for saving money while shopping online, as you will be able to purchase items that you otherwise would not have been able to afford. Retailers are in constant competition with each other to offer the best price and product to customers, so find the one that's offering the best deal." -My Broken Coin
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Home furnishings and home improvement saw a 5.1% increase in sales. Apparel sales grew only 2.7%, and women's clothing sales were flat. Last-minute shoppers flocked to jewelry stores, and sales of jewelry were up 5.9%. 

The holiday season — a bright spot in a difficult retail climate — isn't over yet. The after-Christmas sales have just begun, and billions more are to be returned and spent at retailers over the next week.

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