These retailers have some explaining to do.
Despite several early reads that the season came in better than expected, most of the department stores and specialty chains that have announced their results said sales at their established stores continued to slide in November and December.
The latest victim of the trend was J.C. Penney, which on Friday reported a comparable-sales drop of 0.8 percent during the final two months of 2016. While that dip was less severe than the declines at competitors Kohl's and Macy's, it was well shy of Wall Street's expectation for 3 percent growth.
The widespread deterioration from last year's dismal results underscored the challenges facing legacy retailers, who are closing stores and cutting jobs in a bid to boost their productivity. That includes Macy's, which is cutting more than 10,000 workers as it shutters 68 locations.
Shares of Kohl's, Macy's and J.C. Penney have all started off the year in negative territory.
"The magnitude of how bad things actually were was the big negative surprise," Wells Fargo analyst Ike Boruchow wrote in a note to investors, dubbing the season "The Nightmare Before Christmas." Of the 11 companies that had reported holiday sales as of Thursday night, eight posted negative results, Boruchow said. Only PVH, The Children's Place and Gap were outliers (though Gap's results came off a very weak base).