The overall figure exclude sales from autos, gas and restaurants but includes non-store sales like those from catalogs.
NRF's numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which reported today that overall December sales - including automobiles, gasoline and restaurants - were up 0.4 percent seasonally adjusted from November and 5.4 percent year-over-year.
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. Sales at nonstore retailers, mostly online-shopping outlets, rose 12.7% on the year.
Fed officials expected the tax cuts approved by the U.S. Congress would provide "some boost" to consumer spending.
Strong holiday shopping should lift economic growth in the final three months of a year ago. "Consumers are still buying but where they are buying, and how they are buying is changing and will continue to evolve as price transparency increases and e-commerce and brick-and-mortar operations of retailers continue to converge into one seamless consumer experience", he said.
Friday's results exceeded the holiday forecast by the National Retail Federation of between $678.8 billion and $682 billion, which would have been a rise of 3.6 percent to 4 percent.
A separate reading of the season showed sales rose 5.7 percent in November and December combined, the best holiday period since 2005, said Craig Johnson, head of research firm Customer Growth Partners.
"After years in hibernation, consumers - accounting for 70 percent of GDP - are finally flexing their spending muscles", Johnson said.
"We see a very healthy consumer, and we see a lot of signs of the strength of that consumer", Mr. Andrus said.
As a result, certain retail segments were particularly strong in December.
Sales at department stores fell 1.1% last month but were up 0.5% from December 2016.
Gasoline-station sales were flat in December from the prior month, according to the Commerce Department report.
Early results for the season from Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracked spending through December 24, reported holiday sales grew by 4.9%. Sales of clothing and accessories were up 2.7 percent.
Electronics and appliance stores increased 6.7 percent unadjusted year-over-year. Sales at sporting goods and hobby stores dropped 1.6 percent, the biggest decline since November 2016. Spending was up at furniture sellers, grocery stores and restaurants.