One of the first reports to surface doesn't sound incredibly painful until specific categories -- like electronics -- are broken out. And then the hurt becomes obvious.
MasterCard Advisors, a unit of the credit card giant, released on Friday its SpendingPulse analysis of national retail and service sales for the holiday-shopping season.
Overall retail sales year over year (excluding gasoline, which doesn't make a great holiday gift anyway) were down 2 percent in November and down 4 percent from December 1 to 24.
Overall, e-commerce fared relatively well from November 1 to December 24. It was down just 2.3 percent, reflecting the overall national trend. That seems to be in line with Amazon.com's positive report of its own sales.
The electronics and appliance category, however, showed a 26 percent decline over 2007. This category will become more interesting when sales figures for specific types of electronics become available.
So-called luxury sales, including jewelry, were down more than 34 percent year over year. Clothing sales were down about 20 percent.
Michael McNamara, a SpendingPulse vice president, didn't mince words. "A difficult economic environment combined with unfavorable weather during the last week of shopping made 2008 one of the most challenging holiday shopping seasons in decades," he said in a statement.
By Natalie Weinstein