Black Friday Follow-Up

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Nov 29, 2005 11:27 PM

Michael Hiltzik, at the L.A. Times' Golden State blog, takes issue with an earlier post of mine on Black Friday performance (not before speculating about whether I’m a Trust Fund Baby, which didn’t seem entirely on-topic, but we’ll let that slide). My take is that the press was looking through its Gloomy Gus lens onto good Black Friday numbers—-a symptom of the press’ gloomy overall reporting on a good economy. His is that the gloomy reporting was warranted because Black Friday turned out not to be all it was cracked up to be. His source is the International Council of Shopping Centers:

The council’s Thanksgiving week snapshot is here: black_friday_sales.pdf. It shows that, for all the hoopla, chain store sales actually fell last week from the week before—-a week without a fancy moniker to make people think it’s something special. Sales were considerably higher last week than for the same week a year earlier, but the council cautions that last year’s post-Thanksgiving shopping days were a disappointment (bad weather in the Northeast creamed sales on Saturday and Sunday), making this a deceptively "easy" comparison.

So, admittedly, sales were “considerably higher” this year than last year, but we’re asked to ignore that because sales last year weren’t all that good anyway, and this year’s sales increase may not keep pace with the rate of inflation. All right, but it’s worth pointing out that the 3.5% projected increase Michael scoffs at would outstrip 2000 (2.4%), 2001 (2.2%), 2002 (.5%), and 2004 (2.4%), according to the same report. Only 2003 increased more, with 4%, just for perspective.

Michael doesn’t mention that the National Retail Federation says sales went up 22 percent this weekend compared to last year (though, to be fair, some are saying that number sounds so high as to be suspect). Or, that Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club are happy with their sales, projecting 4.3% gain over last year.

He also fails to mention online sales, which are going to be a huge story this year. The Washington Post has these tidbits:

Non-travel online retail sales rose 22 percent to $1.89 billion for the week ending Friday, compared to year-ago period, according to comScore Networks, an Internet research firm.

Nielsen/NetRatings said traffic to online shopping sites grew 29 percent year-over-year on Friday.

Yahoo! Shopping reported that the number of visits to its site rose 52 percent on Friday, better than the 30 percent jump expected.

"Cyber Monday" numbers are still being crunched, but Visa USA reports that folks spent $505 million online using their cards Monday, a 26% increase over last year.

From the WSJ Holiday Sales Tracker (subscription):

Amazon.com reported one million items were ordered from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. yesterday, compared with 660,000 items during the same time on Sunday. Online bag and shoe seller eBags announced that its sales jumped 60% on Monday from a year ago.

Nielsen/NetRatings reported that its holiday eShopping index, which tracks visitors to online-shopping sites from both home and work, saw 15% more traffic on Monday than on Friday. Online auctioneer eBay was the most visited site in the index on both days, logging over 9,000 unique visitors on Friday and more than 11,000 on Monday. Amazon had over 4,000 and 5,000, respectively.

The increase in online sales is pretty mind-blowing and a huge part of the holiday shopping season story, but it’s not a part of Michael’s assessment. He accuses non-gloomy folks of drawing economic conclusions from a "very limited perspective," and putting too much stock in one set of numbers—-a strange accusation in a post which relies on exactly one set of numbers for its "uh oh" headline and ominous warning of an obscured "dark reality." His post seems to enforce my original point about the press, which was that it tends to emphasize bad economic news at the expense of good economic news and perspective.

Michael's right that we can’t tell everything from one day of shopping. The picture will become clearer when everyone turns in their November sales numbers on Dec. 1. Until then, I’ve got one day and an entire trust fund to drop so that I can single-handedly boost the season’s numbers and prove the Gloomy Guses wrong. Whew, I better get to work.

UPDATE: Some more perspective on the overall economy, here, here, here, and here. Especially in the NYT piece, the tone is a bit gloom and doom, but the news is good.

UPDATE: More good economic news here, and here.