Despite a presidential election, "fiscal cliff" debates and Hurricane Sandy, retailers bumped up their holiday hiring to the highest level in six years, according to a report.

Retailers hired 728,000 new workers in the last three months of the year, up 10.3 percent compared with the same period last year, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. That was the highest year-end bump in the retail sector since 2006.

Most of that hiring occurred in October and November, when employers added 640,000 to their payrolls. December hiring actually dropped significantly from last year.

"An early Thanksgiving, which meant earlier Black Friday sales, may have contributed to an earlier hiring surge," said John A. Challenger, the firm's chief executive.

He said the uptick in holiday hiring to pre-recession levels is "remarkable."

"Spending power this year was not necessarily greater than a year ago. Additionally, more people are shopping online, where increased holiday demand is more easily met without adding a lot of seasonal workers," Challenger said. "Despite these factors, brick-and-mortar retailers moved forward with increased hiring."

But the seasonal hires will probably not last. Once gift cards are redeemed, the vast majority of new hires will be let go, the firm said.