A late surge in shopping and pent-up demand for women's clothing gave a boost to holiday sales, according to early spending figures.

U.S. retail sales rose 7.9 percent between Black Friday and Christmas Eve, excluding autos and gas, with women’s apparel and furniture seeing the biggest gains, according to figures from MasterCard Advisors. For all of November and December, sales were up 4.6 percent — slightly better than expected.

The figures indicate that consumers are starting to feel more confident and buying big ticket items like new sofas, said Sarah Quinlan, senior vice president of market insights for MasterCard. They’re also tapping the extra cash they’ve gained from cheap gas prices. Consumers spent 72 cents of every dollar they saved from lower fuel costs, MasterCard found.

“This shows that consumers are feeling more confident that they are going to get that bonus or have a job a year from now,” Quinlan said.

Cooling temperatures in many part of the country probably helped drive a double-digit sales increase in women’s clothing, which has been selling poorly for the past six months, Quinlan said. But not every retailer was a winner. Men’s apparel and electronic sales declined, as did luxury items such as watches and jewelry, she said.

Online sales rose 20 percent, with 70 percent of consumers doing more research online than last year.

MasterCard’s figures comes from credit card transactions as well as consumer surveys on spending with cash and checks.

Subscribe Now

Authoritative analysis and perspective for every segment of the payments industry

14-Day Free Trial

Authoritative analysis and perspective for every segment of the industry