The holiday shopping season kicked off with a bang but wrapped up with a whimper, leaving retailers with eggnog on their faces. A strong start over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend failed to gain any kind of traction through December.

While it may be two weeks before we get a clearer picture of December retail sales, some chains are already reporting a blue, blue Christmas.

Federated Department Stores (NYSE: FD) warned earlier this week it would miss its top-line target, and even the seemingly recession-proof Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT) revealed it was tracking at the lower end of its initial sales projections.

While the lackluster selling season may not leave much of a mark on the discounters, it's going to get ugly for mainstream, full-price retailers like Nordstrom(NYSE: JWN) and J.C. Penney(NYSE: JCP), who were forced to take a chainsaw to their margins with dramatic markdowns to win over hesitant shoppers. As a result of the ambitious holiday promotions, sales may still dip slightly, but profits will fall even further due to the skimpy margins. Even the Fool is having its own year-end blowout sale.

In one of the most bizarre footnotes of this guarded selling season, Amazon(Nasdaq: AMZN) reports the $4,950 Segway Human Transporter has been one of its biggest sellers. Can an aversion to spending on big-ticket items be overcome by the brisk Internet sales of a self-balancing electronic scooter?

If anything, online retailers appear to be the antidote to the lackluster showing of their offline peers. Last week, Overstock.com(Nasdaq: OSTK) announced sales tripled over the first half of the month. Media Metrix pegged online holiday-sales growth at a crisp 29% earlier this month, so it's no wonder the malls were so empty this season. Folks were home, clicking for a segue to the Segway.