Adding fuel to the fire is consumer confidence that's sitting at an all time low and escalating layoffs.
"This year is the roughest year we've had," said 35-year-old Anah Meeks, who was at Crabtree Valley Mall in north Raleigh.
Meeks moved from Michigan in November after losing her job at a McDonald's restaurant.
Major retailers are expected to report sharply lower sales than last year when they release those figures Jan. 8. Analysts expect a rash of store closings and bankruptcies from both retailers and their suppliers.
A number of stores didn't even make it to Christmas. Circuit City Stores Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection last month. It plans to keep operating, but toy seller KB Toys, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this month, is liquidating its stores and will shut down.
With credit tight and even steep discounts failing to spur spending from tapped-out consumers, economists are looking to government spending to restart the economy. Aides to President-elect Barack Obama are discussing a new stimulus package that could be as large as $775 billion.