Holiday Sales Tumble

New York City Preliminary sales reports for the holidays paint a bleak picture for the nation’s retail industry. According to SpendingPulse, the retail data service of MasterCard Advisors, sales fell approximately 2% in November and 4% from Dec. 1 to Dec. 24. It is the steepest drop since it started tracking the data in 2002, said Michael McNamara, VP, research and analysis, MasterCard Advisors.

Leading the slump were luxury goods, which, including jewelry sales, plunged 34.5%. However, there were some sectors that fared well, keeping the total sales decline to single digits. Among those showing strength were stores that sell food, including grocery chains and big-box retailers, and some types of restaurants.

The SpendingPulse report is based on sales activity of MasterCard holders and others in the company's payments network, plus estimates for all other forms of payment, including cash and check.

Overall, holiday sales fell as much as 4%, excluding gasoline, said SpendingPulse, which estimates U.S. retail sales across all forms of payment including check and cash.

Consumers who have contended with a yearlong recession, job losses and tight credit, largely cut their spending this holiday shopping season. U.S. retailers' hopes that the last weekend before Christmas would bring a flurry of shoppers to stores were dashed, as poor weather kept many consumers huddled indoors.

But bad weather toward the end of the season may have helped online sales, SpendingPulse said, adding that the category showed the least decline at 2.3% compared to 2007's holiday season.

Amazon.com said Friday it had its best holiday season ever this year, selling more than 6.3 million items worldwide on Dec. 15, its peak day.