Santa brought America's retailers a mixed bag in the run-up to Christmas.

Holiday period same-store sales rose by just 2.7% in December, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. The increase falls well short of the hoped-for 3.5% and even shorter than December 2003 when shoppers racked-up sales by 4.3%.

This holiday season, consumers appear to have held out until the last minute to grab knock-down prices, while some saved their hard earned cash to pick up new year clearance bargains.

Poorer consumers, hit by higher fuel prices, held on to their dollars, while upscale stores, attracting a wealthier clientele, reported substantial gains. Nordstrom says its sales rose by 9.3% in December while Nieman Marcus did even better with a 10.8% increase.

Says retail analyst Sarah Henry: "For the nation's retailers, the holiday shopping season looks like it will be decent, but not nearly as strong as they hoped. In the end, it was ... like hoping for a 40GB iPod and having to settle for an iPod mini."

Among the big names in the malls Gap was disappointed by a 1% sales fall in December, but department stores Macy's and Bloomingdales were cheered by their 2.3% increase reported by parent company Federated Department Stores.

For many stores it is the post-Christmas bargain hunters and earlybird shoppers seeking new spring lines who will help shore up profits in the coming year.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff