Through The Retail Looking Glass

Let us now delve into the nether world of Retail-Sales-Excuse-making. Those of you who may be unfamiliar with this land are advised to brush up on your Lewis Carroll, as we are now about to chase the white rabbit down the rabbit hole.

When December sales were announced, they were disappointing. "Do not worry!" we were told, for the holiday shopping season no longer ends on December 25th. Gift cards were to be the savior of retail, and all manner of data were trotted out to prove how they had been growing 25% year-over-year, were this many billions of dollars, were about to hit the malls and stores after New Year’s Eve, you will see. So said the Knave of Hearts.

Alas, it was not to be. With December behind us, in January, we were told retail sales were bad because "It was too warm." If your business is selling mittens and scarves and winter coats, this would make some sense, as it was, after all, one of the warmest Januarys on record.

The ever curious Alice asked "What happened to all of those billions of dollars in gift cards that  were the rationale for the weak December? Why would good weather, unseasonably warm winter weather, 60 degrees in the Northeast weather, prevent those gift card recipients from spending their booty?"

In an illogical land, Alice had unfortunately reached a logical point: Why would Weather — assuming it wasn’t tornadoes or floods or locusts or slaying of the first born — have prevented all those billions of dollars in gift cards from being redeemed? Memory fails to recall shoppers at Best Buy, Amazon, Circuit City, or Home Depot gift cards expressing issues with unseasonably nice weather as why they didn’t exchange their gift cards for goods. Live and learn.

Which brings us to February. Alice, our astute observer of retail, asked "If January was too warm for retailers, then surely the cold snap in February must have helped!"  But it was no aid, as February sales fell below expectations, a disappointment, despite the respite from January’s heat wave.

Pity poor Alice, who has not yet learned that once you go through the Retail Looking Glass, walking toward your desired destination only gets you further and further away. Thus, if warm weather prevents the sale of winter garments, then cold weather prevent even more sales.

This is at it should be, for "Wonderland" is after all, an imaginary place. In the world of Retail, the Mad Hatter and the March Hare are at a never-ending tea party, concocting excuses and rationalizations, but refusing to admit whatever the Queen of Hearts can plainly see: a clear trend of slowing, disappointing sales.

After the Tea Party ended, there was but a single smile — the one left behind by the Chesire Cat, who knowing what was coming next — a recession as likely as not — wandered off, leaving those at tea party to set about the new month’s work: Coming up with the next nonsensical excuse for why March sales will have disappointed.

And then Alice awoke . . .

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