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U.S. retail sales rose 3.5 percent during the holiday season this year, helped by deep discounts at malls and purchases of children’s apparel and jewelry, MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse said.

Sales of holiday-related categories, such as clothing, electronics and luxury goods, rose 2.3 percent from Nov. 1 through Dec. 24 compared with a year earlier, the Purchase-based research firm said Thursday. SpendingPulse tracks total U.S. sales at stores and online via all payment forms.

Falling store traffic in recent weeks and uneven demand, especially for apparel, spurred chains to risk earnings by pouring on the discounts to generate sales. Retailers including Gap Inc. were offering as much as 75 percent off and some, including Macy’s Inc. and Kohl’s Corp., were keeping stores open around the clock starting Dec. 20.

“You are seeing, ‘It’s OK for me to go out and spend,’ ” said Sarah Quinlan, a senior vice president at MasterCard Advisors. “That being said, they are still being cautious, and they are picking their retailers. It is not hot 2006-2007 spending we are seeing.”

Sales were strongest in jewelry and children’s apparel, while sales of electronics and luxury items excluding jewelry were about the same as the same period last year, SpendingPulse said. Sales of women’s and men’s apparel fell from last year, the researcher said.

The SpendingPulse data largely tracked researchers’ expectations for the holiday season. The National Retail Federation reiterated on Dec. 12 its prediction that total sales will rise 3.9 percent in November and December, more than the 3.5 percent gain a year ago. Chicago-based researcher ShopperTrak has said holiday purchases will rise 2.4 percent, the smallest gain since 2009.

The International Council of Shopping Centers said Dec. 24 that sales at retailers’ stores open at least a year climbed 2.7 percent in the week ending Dec. 21 from a year earlier. The New York-based trade group maintained its projection that retailers will report comparable-store sales increases of 3 percent to 4 percent for December when they issue their latest monthly reports.

U.S. store visits plummeted 21 percent and retail sales dropped 3.1 percent in the week through Dec. 21, data compiled by ShopperTrak showed Dec. 23.

Holiday purchases increased 2 percent from Nov. 1 to Dec. 22, Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak, said. The firm compiles sales and traffic data from devices in stores and receipt information.

The promotions were the most prevalent since 2008, Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners in New Canaan, Conn., said in an email.