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, 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.