Holiday shopping season is strongest in years

With just seven shopping days until Christmas, upbeat US consumers are spending their way to the best retail holiday shopping season in seven years.

But shoppers will have to sprint to the finish for retailers to really celebrate a great end-of-year finish.

Last year, Christmas week was the biggest sales week of the season — topping even Black Friday’s Thanksgiving week, according to the National Retail Federation.

But this year consumers, buoyed by low unemployment, sky-high stock performances and the expectation that a tax increase will put more money in their pockets, are showing signs that the stepped-up spending has staying power.

Sales through the first half of December were so strong across the board — for both online and brick-and-mortar retailers — that many prognosticators increased their forecast for holiday spending.

“For the first time in about a dozen years we are seeing people in all income categories spending more money this year,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, which has raised its holiday forecast to 5.6 percent from 4.3 percent based on research his firm conducts at some 90 malls across the country.

Twice as many consumers are buying gifts in the $50 range this year compared with about $25 last year, according to Britt Beamer, chairman of America’s Research Group, which tracks consumer spending.

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