Strong sales in the days before Christmas and the Boxing Day sales period have brought a bad year for the retail sector to a strong end.

The saying “all their Christmases came at once” rang true for the retailers this year with an estimated $2 billion being spent across the nation on Boxing Day, according to the sector’s peak body.

The Boxing Day boon off-set a slow start to the pre-Christmas sale period and a slower first half of the year.

The late stampede towards the shops in the weekend before Christmas and heavy traffic early in the summer sale period put the sector on track to outperform last year.

If shoppers can maintain their Boxing Day momentum, the sector will rake in $15.1 billion between December 26 and mid-January, according to the Australian Retailers Association (ARA).

If achieved, that would be an almost four per cent rise on last year’s $14.5 billion worth of sales turnover.

The total spend for pre-Christmas and post-Christmas is expected to be $42.1 billion.

This follows a lacklustre year for retailers.

ARA executive director Russell Zimmerman said the late turn-around in the industry’s fortunes could be attributed to the change to a majority government.

“Not a change of government but a change into a majority government,” Mr Zimmermann told AAP.

“I think there’s some confidence out there.”

He said lower interest rates and higher levels of consumer confidence were also contributing factors.

Treasure Joe Hockey’s bleak mid-year economic and fiscal outlook did not seem to dampen shoppers’ spirits, Mr Zimmerman said.

“The lead-up to Christmas was a little bit slow and the last couple of days came home very strong,” he said.

Mr Zimmerman was in Sydney’s Pitt Street on Thursday – which together with Bondi Junction was the only major shopping centre to trade in NSW – and said the wave of bargain hunters was relentless.

“If that continues in the same vein I think we will certainly achieve the forecast $15.1 billion and maybe even a little bit more,” he said.

Shopping centres in Melbourne also reported strong sales, with Chadstone General Manager Anthony Rafaniello predicting records would be broken.

“Pre-Christmas was strong but this was far stronger,” Mr Rafaniello told AAP.

“We probably couldn’t fit more people.”

It wasn’t just family and friends people were opening their wallets for this year.

Kmart reported a record-breaking response to its charity Wishing Tree.

More than 470,650 gifts were put under the tree for distribution to those in need by the Salvation Army in 2013, up by more than 27,000 in 2012.