Retailers across the nation this weekend attracted the lowest number of Christmas shoppers in the last six years. The next-to-last weekend before Christmas usually attracts brisk sales, analyst say.
According to the National Retail Federation, holiday sales this year are expected to grow by only 4 percent, the weakest gain in five years, and well below the 4.8 percent average growth over the same period.
After a promising start to the holiday shopping season, harsh weather and even harsher economic news have kept many consumers at home.
Even Internet sales, whose rate of growth has been outpacing traditional store sales, is slowing. Sixteen percent of those polled by the American Research Group say they have shopped online since the first of November, as opposed to 24 percent over the same period last year.
"Consumers said they were going to spend less this year than last year, and that's been consistent," said Brett Beemer, founder of American Research Group.
In turn, retailers have cut down on the number of holiday temporary workers by 9 percent from last year.
One of this year's more worrisome trends is a slowdown in the sale of women's clothing. For the first time in 20 years women's apparel is not expected to be one of the Top 5 gifts this holiday season, analyst say.
"Women's apparel has been a disaster all year. Women have been reluctant to buy apparel this year unless it was 50 or 60 percent off," said Beemer.
All this means that the next few days leading up to Christmas will be crucial for retailers. Beginning Friday, Macy's will be keeping many of its stores open all night. Toys 'R Us is also extending hours and will stay open through midnight Christmas Eve.
Some stores are taking it even further with creative incentives to lure shoppers. For example, Dillard's is offering the chance to win Hannah Montana concert tickets.