WASHINGTON, DC: "Christmas is forced upon a reluctant and disgusted nation by the shopkeepers and the press," opined playwright George Bernard Shaw over some mulled wine and a mince pie. But it is the tradesfolk of America who may find themselves out of pocket this festive season, according to figures from the National Retail Federation.

The US retail industry body predicts that sales in November and December – excluding purchases of fuel and automobiles – will increase by 2.2% to $470 billion, the lowest growth level since the 1.3% upswing recorded in 2002.

By contrast, sales over the holiday season rose by 3% in 2007 – compared with the NRF's prediction of 4% – and have improved by an average of 4.3% over the last ten years.

According to the NRF, the frail financial climate and housing market, as well as rises in unemployment and household bills, will stunt consumer confidence, with the second half of 2009 the most likely time for a change in this situation.

The organisation's chief economist, Rosalind Wells, said the “current financial pressures and a lack of confidence in the economy will force shoppers to be very conservative”.

“We expect consumers to be frugal this season and less willing to splurge on discretionary items.”

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff