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An employee unboxes toysat a Wal-Mart location in Burbank, Calif., on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016.

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

The nation's largest retail trade group says holiday spending rose a better-than-expected 5.5 per cent, the strongest gain since the Great Recession.

The National Retail Federation said Friday holiday sales reached $691.9 billion as shoppers stepped up their spending in the wake of a better economy. The results beat the group's original growth projections of 3.6 per cent to 4 per cent, and it marked the largest increase since the 5.2 per cent gain in 2010.

Online shopping, which is included in the results, increased 11.5 per cent.

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The overall figure exclude sales from autos, gas and restaurants but includes non-store sales like those from catalogues.

The news comes as the government reported that retail sales rose 0.4 per cent last month, after a 0.9 per cent surge in November.

Many retailers reported solid holiday sales gains.

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