Many economists have predicted this would be the worst holiday season in decades as home prices plunged, unemployment rose and nervous consumers cut costs. Compounding retailers' problems were unexpected winter storms that snowed-in would-be shoppers everywhere from Seattle to Las Vegas to Boston.
When gas and auto sales are excluded from the holiday period from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24, overall sales were down somewhere between 2 percent and 4 percent, according to SpendingPulse, a division of MasterCard Advisors that tracks total sales paid for by credit card, checks and cash.
During the holiday season, gasoline prices were down 40 percent from a year before.
A separate measure of holiday spending, from the International Council of Shopping Centers, is expected to fall 1.5 percent to 2 percent from last year, making this the worst season since 1969. A full picture of the season won't be known until Jan. 8, when major retailers report their sales results.
Food sales were strong, while clothing sales - especially the most expensive clothing - were dismal, SpendingPulse said. Sales of women's clothing dropped 22.7 percent, according to SpendingPulse. Men's clothing sales dropped 14.3 percent and footwear sales fell 13.5 percent.
Total sales of luxury goods - defined as the highest priced tenth of jewelry, clothing and leather goods - fell 34.5 percent.
Sales of electronics and appliances were down 26.7 percent, leaving electronics retailers more rattled than any others.
More coverage for the holidays from 6abc.com
- SLIDES: Action News Holiday Memories
- INTERACTIVE: Recipes for the 12 days of cookies!
- INTERACTIVE: Guide to green gifts
- SLIDES: Relive the 6abc/Ikea Thanksgiving Day Parade
- VIDEO: Performances from the 6abc/Ikea Thanksgiving Day Parade
- GOOD NEWS CHANNEL: Stories that make you feel warm and fuzzy... in that Action News kind of way
- VIDEOS: 2008 Troop Greetings