Strong promotions helped kick off this year's holiday season, with clothing among the items on the shopping list for many US consumers in November, according to two sets of figures released yesterday (13 December).

The data from the Commerce Department shows total retail sales in November edged up 0.2% from October, and were 6.8% higher than last year. However, the monthly rise was marginally slower than the revised 0.6% gain seen in October.

Gift-buying shoppers spent more on clothing, with sales at clothing stores rising 0.5% over October - and an impressive 3.7% higher than November last year - and department stores up 0.3%.

The National Retail Federation (NRF), meanwhile, said November retail industry sales (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) were better than expected. Buoyed by a strong Black Friday weekend, they rose 0.09% from October and 4.5% over last year.

"Though consumers remain concerned about the economy, they are demonstrating an increased willingness to spend this holiday season, not only on gifts but also on small luxuries for themselves," NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said. 

"While companies are encouraged by a strong start to the holiday season, the real test will come in December when the majority of holiday spending occurs. Retailers have been working all year to make sure that the last two weeks before Christmas deliver the promotions and value that today's shoppers expect."

The National Retail Federation still forecasts holiday sales growth of 2.8%, which was announced in early October, but says it will re-evaluate its outlook following November's results.