NEW YORK (Reuters) – Retailers’ sales fell as much as 4 percent during the holiday season, as the weak economy and bad weather created one of the worst holiday shopping climates in modern times, according to data released on Thursday by SpendingPulse.
The figures, from the retail data service of MasterCard Advisors, show the 2008 holiday shopping season was the weakest in decades, as U.S. consumers cut spending as they confront a yearlong recession, mounting job losses and tighter credit.
“It’s probably one of the most challenging holiday seasons we’ve ever had in modern times,” said Michael McNamara, vice president of Research and Analysis at MasterCard Advisors.
“We had a very difficult economic environment. Weather patterns were not favorable toward the end of season, and that resulted in one of the most challenging economic seasons we’ve seen in decades.”
The figures exclude auto and gas sales but include grocery, restaurant and specialty food sales. Although SpendingPulse did not exempt the food prices, McNamara said the decline would have been steeper without them.
“There’s a lot of food that provide a buffer for the total retail sales numbers,” he said.
SpendingPulse tracks sales activity in the MasterCard Inc payments network and couples that with estimates for all other payment forms, including cash and checks. It has been tracking holiday spending figures since 2002. Exact comparisons beyond that year are difficult because of changes in measurements.