20071119 christmas shopper
A woman carries a package through the Galleria in Houston, Texas, on Nov. 24, 2006. - 


Doug Krizner: Procrastinating shoppers were out in droves during the final hours before Christmas. That last-minute push may have helped. Mastercard Advisors reports retailers sold 3.6 percent more stuff this season than last year. But as Jill Barshay reports, overall buying was weak.

Jill Barshay: Do the housing slump and higher prices for food and gas have you feeling broke? If so, you're not alone.

Richard Hastings is a retail economist at the Federation of Credit and Financial Professionals. He says this year, many shoppers kept a tight grip on their wallets.

Richard Hastings: This will be the weakest holiday period since 2001 and 2002.

Sales of women's clothing were particularly hard hit, falling 2.4 percent.

But, Hastings says, weak holiday shopping no longer means big discounts. He says these days, more stores are shipping unsold merchandise back to suppliers rather than slashing prices.

Hastings: January is no longer the clearance month. If you're a shopper and you're looking for really great bargains, go to places like TJ Maxx, Marshall's, Overstock.com. Go to all of the big off-price channels.

Hastings says retailers now try to keep prices high in January, as we redeem all the new gift cards Santa left under the tree.

In New York, I'm Jill Barshay for Marketplace.