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Consumer Confidential: Holiday sales up, cyber-sales up, gas prices (yes) up

December 20, 2010 | 10:32 am

Shoppic Here's your magical-mystery Monday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- And the countdown begins. Retailers are pulling out the stops as we near the finish line for the pre-holiday shopping season (not to be confused with the post-holiday shopping season). Analysts say it looks like sales will remain strong, with big discounts luring many people to malls and stores. Michael McNamara of MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse says apparel sales have risen 9.8%; jewelry sales gained 2.6%; and luxury-sector sales (excluding jewelry) have climbed 2.8%. If you haven't finished your shopping, time to get with the program, huh?

-- Speaking of which, looks like many e-shoppers liked what they saw on Friday's Free Shipping Day. The cyber-event helped produce a 61% boost in online shopping from last year, according to market researcher ComScore. Overall, people have spent $27.46 billion online this holiday season, a 12% increase from last year. Driving much of that growth was computer hardware such as iPads, e-readers and laptops, according to ComScore. Free Shipping Day boasted participation by hundreds of major retailers, including Barnes & Noble, Dell, and TomTom. This year, shoppers spent $942 million on Free Shipping Day. That's a bunch o' e-bucks.

-- And now, some coal for your stocking: Looks like high gas prices will persist into the new year. Drivers in California and a number of other states already pay at least $3 a gallon for regular, and analysts don't expect any relief soon. That's because crude oil has hovered between $83 and $89 a barrel since Thanksgiving. The national average for regular gasoline was $2.98 a gallon Monday, according to AAA. That's about the same as a week ago and more than a dime higher than a month ago. A year ago, the average was $2.59 a gallon. Motorists in Washington, California, Hawaii, Illinois and Maine are among those paying the highest prices — from $3.09 a gallon to $3.61 a gallon. The Rockies, Texas and parts of the Midwest have the cheapest gas, ranging from $2.73 a gallon to $2.82 a gallon.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: Sales are strong, online and off, as shoppers turn out in force. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho