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Buy, buy, buy: Holiday shopping 2010 may break records

This year's holiday shopping season is on track be the biggest ever. Americans are surpassing pre-recession spending to break new consumer ground.

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A shopper eyes cooking ware gift sets at the J.C. Penney store at Herald Square, New York, on Dec. 16. Total holiday sales during the 50 days before Christmas 2010 reached $584.3 billion, surpassing 2007 totals, which reached $566.34 billion (not adjusted for inflation). If post-Christmas buying continues as strongly as it started, this could be the biggest holiday shopping period ever.

Bebeto Matthews / AP / File

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Forget the returns line. People hit the stores after Christmas to buy, indulging the rediscovered retail appetite that may have made 2010's holiday shopping season the biggest ever.

Revenue for the holiday season is on track to grow at its strongest rate since 2006. Total spending for November and December could exceed 2007 sales — the best season on record. This despite an uncertain economy and a rise in thrifty habits.

Shoppers spent more on their family and friends and for the first time since before the Great Recession, treated themselves and even their pets. And after Christmas, even an East Coast blizzard didn't kill the mood as they headed to stores armed with gift cards and eyeing a new crop of discounts.

Mall of America's spokesman Dan Jasper reported Monday that shoppers are doing more buying and less returning this week than a year ago.

"People are definitely treating themselves," particularly to jeans and accessories, he said.

Shoppers spent more across the board this holiday season. Clothing sales rose 11.2 percent. Jewelry and luxury goods showed strong single-digit gains compared with a year ago, though they've not returned to pre-recession levels, according to data released late Monday by MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse.

Total consumer spending excluding autos, rose 5.5 percent to $584.3 billion from Nov. 5 through Dec. 24, compared with the same 50-day period a year ago, according to SpendingPulse.

That marks the biggest increase since 2007, when revenue rose 4.9 percent. Total sales surpassed 2007 holiday spending, which reached $566.34 billion, though the figures aren't adjusted for inflation.

"In 2008, stores were knocked down. In 2009, they found some stability, and in 2010, they took a step forward toward growth," said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis for SpendingPulse, which tracks spending across all transactions including cash.

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