While certain department stores and fashion specialty chains lagged, retail overall had a good 2016 holiday season.

That’s according to the National Retail Federation, which reported that November and December retail sales increased 4 percent over 2015 to $658.3 billion.

The NRF said a strengthening economy encouraged consumers to spend even more freely than expected. Online and catalog [non-store] sales reached $122.9 billion and were up 12.6 percent over 2015.

“These numbers show that the nation’s slow-but-steady economic recovery is picking up speed and that consumers feel good about the future,” NRF president and chief executive officer Matthew Shay said. “Retail mirrors the economy. And while there might have been some bumps in the road for individual companies, the retail industry overall had a solid holiday season and retailers will work to sustain this in the year ahead.”

The news should help the mood at the “Big Show,” the NRF’s annual convention that begins Sunday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, in the aftermath of disclosures of store closings and restructurings at Sears Holdings and Macy’s. J.C. Penney Co. is also expected to unveil a round of significant closings soon.

This past holiday several categories performed well, specifically furniture and home furnishings, building materials and supplies, health and personal care, and food and beverage, according to the NRF.

The worst-performing categories were sporting goods, general merchandise and department stores.

Clothing and accessories performed somewhere in the middle of the pack.

The numbers exceeded NRF’s forecast of $655.8 billion, which would have been an increase of 3.6 percent. The numbers also exceeded NRF’s forecast that online sales would rise 7 to 10 percent, to as much as $117 billion. The figures exclude automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants.

December was up 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted from November and 3.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

“There has been a lot of talk about online versus in-store retail in the past few months, but that comes from people who don’t realize that online and retail today are the same thing,” Shay said. “In the new distributed commerce world that allows consumers to buy any product, anytime, anywhere, it really doesn’t matter whether a customer shops in a company’s store or on its web site or mobile app. It’s all retail. Today’s retailers sell to shoppers any way they want to buy.”

“The economy was clearly stronger in the fall and consumers were more active during the holiday season than they had been earlier in the year,” added NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Economic indicators were up, retailers offered great deals, confidence improved and all of that empowered consumers to spend more.”

Kleinhenz cited a number of factors for the holiday gains, including increases in average hourly earnings, job gains and unemployment, which was up slightly in December from November, but remained low. He also said home values are increasing and the rising stock market.

While the e-commerce data for retail sales from the Commerce Department is only available on a quarterly basis, NRF expects e-commerce sales during the holiday season to be on par with recent quarterly releases showing 16 percent growth year-over-year.

NRF’s numbers are based on data from the Commerce Department, which said today that overall December sales — including automobiles, gas stations and restaurants — were up 0.6 percent seasonally adjusted from November and 4.4 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

The Commerce Department broke down the performance by categories and sectors, indicating the following:

  • Nonstores [online and catalog] rose 12.6 percent.
  • Health and personal care rose 6.7 percent.
  • Furniture and furnishings rose 4.8 percent.
  • Building materials and supplies rose 4.5 percent.
  • Food and beverage rose 3.6 percent.
  • Clothing and accessories rose 2.5 percent.
  • General merchandise declined 1.5 percent.
  • Sporting goods declined 1.7 percent.
  • Electronics declined 2.3 percent.
  • Department stores declined 7 percent. As previously reported, Macy’s Inc. and Kohl’s Corp. this month said their comparable sales declined by 2.1 percent in November and December. The Ascena Retail Group, which operates Dressbarn, Maurices, Ann Taylor, Loft and Lane Bryant, among other chains, reported holiday sales were negative 3.1 percent.