Business & Tech

The numbers are in: Retailers had the best holiday season in years

Finally, some good news for the nation’s retailers: The nation’s shoppers spent more than expected this holiday season, fueling the strongest growth in holiday retail sales since the end of the recession.

Holiday sales rose to $691.9 billion in November and December, marking a 5.5 percent increase from the year before, according to the National Retail Federation. The lobbying group had forecast holiday spending growth of 3.6 percent to 4 percent.

‘‘Whether they shopped in-store, online, or on their phones, consumers were in the mood to spend,’’ Matthew Shay, president and chief executive of the NRF, said in a prepared statement.

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Separately on Friday, the US Commerce Department said retail sales grew 0.4 percent in December and 0.9 percent in November. Taken together, analysts said, that represented the best holiday spending performance since 2005.

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‘‘The basic story line here is that holiday sales were extremely strong,’’ said Chris Christopher, executive director of research firm IHS Markit. ‘‘Growth more than surpassed expectations, even though we’re seeing a structural shift in the industry as shoppers move online.’’

Economists said a number of factors, including a growing economy and booming stock market, helped spur spending growth. The nation’s unemployment rate is at a 17-year low, and wages are inching up, giving consumers enough confidence to fill their carts, whether in stores or online. Online spending grew 11.5 percent during the holidays to $138.4 billion.

Holiday sales grew in every retail sector except sporting goods, according to the National Retail Federation.