This year, the after-holiday sales started before the holiday was even over.
Amazon.com was already offering "after Christmas" deals of up to 70 percent off clothes and 60 percent off some electronics on Christmas Eve. Old Navy ran TV ads saying its "after-holiday sale starts early," with discounts of up to 75 percent off.
Usually, stores wait until the day after Christmas to offer deep discounts of up to 70 percent or more on clothes, shoes and other holiday merchandise that didn't sell. But this year, Americans who are still worried about the economy have held tightly to their purse strings. And sales at stores have fallen for the past three consecutive weeks.
The early deals came as retailers were feeling more pressure to attract Americans into stores during the final week of what's typically the busiest shopping period of the year. The two-month period that begins on Nov. 1 is important for retailers because they can make up to 40 percent of their annual sales during that time.
Sales at U.S. stores dropped 3.1 percent to $42.7 billion for the week that ended on Sunday compared with the same week last year, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks data at 40,000 retail locations. That follows a decline of 2.9 percent and 0.8 percent during the first and second weeks of the month, respectively.
Stores had a problem even getting Americans into stores, let alone getting them to spend. The number of shoppers fell 21.2 percent during the week that ended on Sunday, according to ShopperTrak.
Karen McDonald, a spokeswoman at Taubman Centers, which owns or operates 28 malls, estimated that business for the week that ended Sunday was unchanged to mid-single digit percentage growth compared with a year ago. McDonald said business "was just OK."
Overall, ShopperTrak estimates that holiday sales at stores so far are up 2 percent to $218.4 billion compared with the same period last year. That's below the 2.4 percent increase forecast for the two-month period, but the company was standing by that estimate with a little over a week left before the season ends.
The National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail group, also said it's sticking with its forecast that sales in stores and online will be up 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion.