Despite cheery predictions for holiday sales numbers this year, post-Christmas data shows that the season was, in fact, not a merry one for retailers after all. According to new numbers released by MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse, sales in the two months before Christmas — from October 28 to December 24 — increased only 0.7%, the weakest pace since the Great Recession of 2008. The survey, which tracks U.S. stores and online sales in categories including electronics, clothing, jewelry, luxury goods, furniture and other home goods via all payment forms, showed that sales grew at a pace of 2% during the same period last year.

A number of factors played into the disappointing numbers this holiday season, including bad weather, uncertainty over the fiscal cliff, distraction from the presidential election, and the recent tragedy in Newtown, CT. According to the study, areas hit by Superstorm Sandy fared the worst in holiday sales, with sales declining 3.9% in the mid-Atlantic and 1.4% in the Northeast compared to last year. Luxury sales in the U.S., a fifth of which is driven by the Northeast market, also suffered as a consequence. Even online sales, usually a strong performer, grew only 8.4% during the holiday season — down from the 15-17% growth during the prior 18 month period.

According to retail experts, the post holiday period through January will now be key for retailers to make their numbers for Q4. Michael McNamera, vice president of research for SpendingPulse, said that the last week of December could account for 15% of retailers’ total sales for the month. If judging only from online data, post holiday numbers are already starting to look at bit more optimistic. According to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark, online sales on Christmas Day were up 22.4% over Christmas 2011. To help boost sales, specialty retailer Macy’s has dubbed this week between Chrsitmas and the New Year “Week of Wonderful” and launched a comprehensive marketing campaign hoping to attract consumers with post-holiday deals and new spring merchandise. Despite the weak numbers thus far, many retail experts are still optimistic that the best is yet to come: the International Council of Shopping Centers said that it’s still estimating a 3% increase in sales from last year for the whole holiday season and the National Retail Federation is sticking to its estimate of a 4.1% increase.

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