Over the years, I have been rather annoyed (perhaps too much) at the annual foolishness over Black Friday forecasts. Each year, we hear breathless predictions of ridiculous increases in consumer spending — holiday shopping rises 16% this season! — which turn out to be wildly over-optimistic, and are never confirmed by the actual data.

I’ve blogged about this annually for the past decade. Carl Bialik, the WSJ’s numbers guy, did a great piece on this a few years ago (Holiday Sales Numbers Don’t Add Up) but other than that, there is not alot of MSM recognition of the issue. I finally wrote it up for the Washington Post last year: Did Black Friday save the season? Beware the retail hype.

This year, the idea seems to have spread into the mainstream: Lots of coverage about it, with a few choice quotes from you know who tossed in for good measure.

Here is the The Globe and Mail:

“Barry Ritholtz, chief executive officer of Fusion IQ, a New York investment tool firm, is a long-time skeptic of early survey results. Not only are they released too early to compare to actual sales numbers, he says, but their measurement techniques are simply too indirect.

Foot-traffic assessments don’t properly separate browsers from buyers, Mr. Ritholz said. And he’s even more critical of surveys asking shoppers how much they plan to spend – which is how the NRF produces parts of its results. “Humans are terrible at forecasting their own behaviours,” he said.”

And NBC:

“Barry Ritholtz, director of equity research at Fusion IQ, takes to his popular blog every year to bemoan the “wildly optimistic” surveys that the media quotes at the end of Black Friday weekend.

Without fail, he says, the reports exaggerate consumer enthusiasm. He pointed to last year’s National Retail Foundation’s claim that sales had spiked by 16 percent – which, if true, would have been a record-breaking sum. There was no apparent attempt to check the data later on, but economists generally agree that consumer spending increased by less than 6 percent over the entire 2011 holiday season . . .

“You should be reluctant to draw too big a conclusion from one day,” Ritholtz said. “As we’ve seen, it never lives up to the hype. In fact, part of the reason there’s so much hype and false signals is there are so many people trying to get a read into that one day, far more than what you should typically be willing to see in one day. This is an economy, not an event.”

And MoneyWatch:

“As financial pundit Barry Ritholtz wrote last year: No, retail sales did not climb 16 percent. Surveys where people forecast their own future spending are, as we have seen repeatedly in the past, pretty much worthless. We actually have no idea just yet as to whether, and exactly how much, sales climbed. The data simply is not in yet. The most you can accurately say is according to some foot traffic measurements, more people appeared to be in stores on Black Friday 2011 than in 2010.”

So the good news is that print media has figured this out. Now, let’s see if television and radio can get their story straight . . .


Did Black Friday save the season? Beware the retail hype. (Washington Post, December 4, 2011)

Retail Sales Disappoint on False Black Friday Reports (December 13th, 2011)

No, Black Friday Sales Were Not Up 16% (not even 6%)   (November 28th, 2011)

Entering the Holiday Shopping Season (Beware Surveys!)   (October 28th, 2009)

Spinning Black Friday Retail Sales   (December 1st, 2008)

Repeat After Me: Spending Surveys Are Meaningless (October 2007)

More Bad Data from the NRF? (November 2006)

Holiday Sales Numbers Don’t Add Up (December 1st, 2005)


Don’t look to Black Friday for clues to the market
The Globe and Mail Thursday, Nov. 22 2012

Despite Hype, Black Friday Can’t Predict Holiday Shopping Patterns
Jon Schuppe
NBC, Nov 21, 2012

Lies, damned lies and Black Friday sales
Constantine von Hoffman
MoneyWatch, November 21, 2012



Category: Consumer Spending, Data Analysis, Mathematics, Media, Really, really bad calls

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

15 Responses to “Black Friday Skepticism (Finally!) Goes Mainstream”

  1. Greg0658 says:

    again in my role .. a story
    Wednesdays paper had more inserts than paper .. and if I went to the trouble to slice out stories and add the rest to the ad pile .. well (deep subject – sometimes wet sometimes dry)

    everybody needs a job – it used to one of mine (ad copy paste up artist)

    the rest of the story – I had to call a store to see if they were open on Thanksgiving
    (till noon) (not published) (cost of pie in the freez – ya kidding)
    because I forgot (blew off responsibility) to get the pumpkin pie & whip for the parades on tv
    (we were traveling for dinner) pp&w is a must have (cats outta the bag – been out a while)

    more bytes into the www to get a point across
    - this one is JoJo’s (not sure its the same one thats still here)
    ” a waste is a terrible thing to mind “

  2. leveut says:

    I am not sure it is something to get angry about, but it certainly is amusing.

    There is a pretty predictable cyclical pattern in the news reports about how the Xmas retail sales season is going to be as we go through it. It is never “going to be good” from start to finish as we go through it, nor “going to be bad”.

    A few days after “going to be good/sales are up” reports, “going to be bad/down/a disappointment” reports, then back to good, then back to bad etc.

    Every year.

    It’s kind of funny.

  3. Moopheus says:

    “So the good news is that print media has figured this out. Now, let’s see if television and radio can get their story straight . . .”

    NBC and CBS are print media?


    BR: They have websites where this was published

  4. larrr1 says:

    over the years over the years over the years over the years over the years over the years

  5. My American neighbours seem to have this Black Friday thingy backwards. In Canada, virtually all retailers have their huge inventory sales between Christmas and New Years Day for a generation … Boxing Week Clearance Days to clear the shelves. Selling at breakeven or at a loss pre-Christmas just makes no sense to me.

  6. Expat says:

    Since few people know what the Black in Black Friday means, I propose we nominate it as day of national mourning. We can mourn our lost collective soul, our creativity, our values, and our democracy.

    There is something sick and disgusting about a nation who celebrates the takeover of a continent from indigenous peoples by overeating while millions in the world go to bed hungry and follows it up with a display of mass overconsumption of useless plastic and silicon pieces of crap.

  7. Conan says:

    Here’s the two winners for Black Friday:

    Mobile shopping hits all-time high on Thanksgiving

    Earlier Black Friday Deals Cause Restaurants to Shift Strategies

  8. [...] healthy dose of Black Friday skepticism.  (Big Picture also Tim [...]

  9. quiddity says:

    Local Los Angeles news (IIRC, KABC) had a poll they had conducted (again, IIRC by Survey USA) about how much people were planning on spending this holiday season.

    They reported this before Thanksgiving Day (Mon or Tue). The results?

    16% spend more
    43% spend the same as last year
    37% spend less
    4% D/K

    I was surprised to see that, given that I share Barry’s attitude about the hyping of sales. That report was only that, just the numbers. No follow-up interviews or even a reporter “on” that story.

    Who knows what the numbers will be this year? It seems everybody has a big flat-screen television and no games or toys are hot, so purchases will be modest. IF sales are flat or down slightly, I’d wonder about 2013.

  10. [...] over the Black Friday weekend. That’s up 13% from last year and an all-time record. I should add Barry Ritholtz’s advice to be very wary of any claims of robust Black Friday [...]

  11. quiddity says:

    On CBS This Morning, (today, Nov 26), there was a segment on Cyber Monday.


    There was an interview with someone from Amazon. Here’s how it played out:

    Amazon guy (Craig Berman – VP Global Communications):
    “We feel good about this season. We believe this is going to be our best holiday season to date.”

    CBS reporter (Seth Doane):
    [grinning] “Is this just a talking point? You really do?”

    When pro-holiday-sales talk from retailers is labeled a talking point, that indicates a change in attitude towards the hype. On the other hand, they also had a guy from the National Retail Federation and enthusiastic shoppers. But it was nice to see some backing away from 100% cheerleading.

  12. [...] week, I mentioned that Black Friday skepticism had “finally gone mainstream.” For a brief moment, I thought the MSM might have [...]

  13. [...] Black Friday Skepticism (Finally!) Goes Mainstream (November 23rd, 2012) [...]

  14. [...] Black Friday Skepticism (Finally!) Goes Mainstream (November 23rd, [...]