With Christmas officially in the rearview, the first snapshot of holiday spending is rolling in and the picture isn't too pretty: In the two months leading up to Christmas, sales of popular gift items like electronics and apparel grew only .7%—a measly increase well below analysts' expectation of 3% or 4%, and far worse than the 4% to 5% we saw around the same time last year. In fact, it's the worst year-over-year growth since 2008, when the recession began, reports the AP. Even online shopping was down, posting only 8.4% growth since late October, far lower than the 15% to 17% seen in the 18 months before the holiday.
The reasons for the poor figures are varied: Spending was weak in areas hit by Hurricane Sandy and the recent Midwest blizzard, and shoppers may have been worried about the looming fiscal cliff. The Newtown shootings may also have dampened buyers' zeal. Post-holiday shopping figures are closely watched, as Christmastime buying can account for as much as 40% of annual sales for retailers, and may be an indication of how the coming year will play out and the economy as a whole. "A lot of the Christmas spirit was left behind way back in Black Friday weekend," said one analyst. "We had one reason after another for consumers to say, `I'm going to stick to my list and not go beyond it.'" (Read more holiday shopping stories.)