U.S. retail sales, riding momentum seen last holiday season, rose 9.2 percent in January, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse.

Online sales alone rose 62.1 percent online, Mastercard reported Thursday.

“A big, bright note from January is that consumers are spending,” said Steve Sadove, Mastercard senior adviser and former chairman and chief executive officer of Saks Inc. “While we know that consumers are also saving their stimulus funds and paying down debt, these numbers show that stimulus is helping to boost sales for retailers around the country.

We’re living in a digital world. For consumers, e-commerce has emerged as a lifeline and a lifestyle. January’s numbers are just further proof of this ongoing trend,” Sadove added.

Mastercard measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment, but excludes automotive and gasoline sales.

The solid January retail report reflects momentum from a stronger-than-anticipated holiday season with consumer spending buoyed by an infusion of federal government stimulus payments, particularly in the first two weeks of 2021, Mastercard reported.

Last month, the National Retail Federation said November and December 2020 sales rose 8.3 percent to $789.4 billion. The numbers exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.

Mastercard Spending Pulse, taking a different perspective, reported that for the Oct. 11 to Dec. 24 period and excluding automotive and gasoline sales, holiday retail sales increased 3 percent. Mastercard chose to report on an expanded holiday season because many major retailers began their holiday campaigns six to eight weeks earlier in 2020.

Mastercard, which has just begun reporting retail sales monthly, cited key trends in January 2021. Among them:

  • Robust spending on the home, with furniture and furnishings up 16.6 percent. Grocery shopping also saw a big lift.
  • Consumers began refreshing wardrobes, with specialty apparel online sales up 52.5 percent in January, though the sector overall was still down 4.3 percent, marking the sector’s smallest year-over-year decline since the pandemic began impacting sales in March 2020.
  • Department store sales were up 1.5 percent in January, marking the sector’s first year-over-year increase since 2019, boosted by a 27.9 percent gain in online sales.
  • January was a month of growth across all 50 states. States in the Southeast and the West are driving the largest increases of total retail sales. More outdoor shopping options are available in the warmer Southern states and online sales growth has surged in the Western states.
  • E-commerce has become a critical driver of sales growth across the country. In California, for instance, online sales grew 77.4 percent, helping to lift retail sales overall 7.9 percent.
  • Gasoline sales declines eased over the summer months, COVID-19 restrictions as well as winter weather led to a further deterioration in gasoline demand in January.

Mastercard SpendingPulse findings are based on aggregate sales activity in the MasterCard payments network, coupled with survey-based estimates for certain other payment forms, such as cash and checks.