Unemployment benefit applications rose as well last week, but those numbers were likely distorted by the holidays.
Dow Jones industrial futures fell 22 points to 13,309. The broader S&P futures gave up 2.4 points to 1,454.70. Nasdaq futures slipped 3 points to 2,735.75.
One company for which sales were not a problem in 2012 was Chrysler, which on Thursday put up its best numbers since 2007, when the economic meltdown began.
Chrysler sales rose 21 percent for the year, which ended strong with a 10 percent increase for the month of December.
Some retailers, however, struggled during the most crucial time of the year as shoppers held out for deep discounts.
Target Chairman and CEO Gregg Steinhafel said December sales were slightly below expectations, with a strong finish not enough to offset a slow start.
Target's revenue at stores open at least a year were essentially flat. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected an increase of 0.8 percent.
Wet Seal comparable store revenue dropped 9.7 percent for the month. Bebe Stores said revenue from sales open at least a year fell 10.5 percent in the second quarter.
Macy's edged out Wall Street expectations for December, but said its combined November-December revenue performance came in below its expectations and cuts its earnings guidance for its fourth fiscal quarter.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that weekly applications rose by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 372,000. The previous week's total was revised higher.
Many state unemployment offices were closed last week for the New Year's holiday. As a result, the department relied on estimates for nine states.
Investors are also keeping an eye on Washington, where few are completely happy with the deal that averted the so-called fiscal cliff.
Congress must soon vote to raise the amount that the country can borrow in order to avoid defaulting on loans. President Barack Obama has said the issue isn't up for debate.