Gift-card redemptions helped lift last week’s retail sales 3.9 percent over the comparable week last year.

The figure for the week ended on Saturday matches the year-on-year gain recorded during the week ended Oct. 4 and falls just short of the 4 percent advance for the week ended Sept. 6. The largest increase last year was a 4.8 percent leap the week concluded Aug. 30.

According to the weekly chain store sales index now compiled by Goldman Sachs and The Retail Economist LLC, sales for the week ended Jan. 3 were 3.8 percent below those for the seven days ended Dec. 27, which included the final days of Christmas shopping and the beginning of a focus on returns, card redemptions and personal purchases that follows the holiday.

The 3.9 percent decline in sequential sales stacks up favorably against results from prior years. In the first week of 2014, sales versus the prior week were off 5.4 percent and in the comparable week of 2013 they receded 4.2 percent. The first week of 2012 was met with a 5.4 percent decline in sales.

In 2011, Saturday fell on New Year’s Day and sales were up 0.4 percent from the prior week; however, they fell 3.2 percent during the week ended Jan. 8.

Michael Niemira, chief economist of The Retail Economist, noted that nearly a quarter — 24.6 percent — of holiday gift sales were spent on gift cards in the most recent holiday period, up from 23.7 percent in 2013.

This meant “the post-Christmas week was importantly dominated by gift-card redemption, as well as by gift returns and bargain hunting,” Niemira said.

Going back to the week ended Nov. 29, which included Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, sales ticked up 2.8 percent on a year-on-year basis, followed by a 2.9 percent gain for the week ended Dec. 6, a 1.1 percent gain for the week ended Dec. 13, a 3.1 percent gain for the week ended Dec. 20 and a 2.2 percent gain for the week ended Dec. 27.

Gasoline prices continued their recent decline. As of Jan. 5, the average price for a gallon of gas was $2.21, down 8.5 cents from the prior week and $1.12 from their year-ago median, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

With the arrival of the new year, the weekly sales report is being prepared by Goldman Sachs and The Retail Economist without the participation of the International Council of Shopping Centers. Niemira previously served as vice president of research and chief economist at ICSC and is now a principal and chief economist of The Retail Economist.

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