Black Friday’s Media Hall of Shame

Last week, I mentioned that Black Friday skepticism had “finally gone mainstream.” For a brief moment, I thought the MSM might have redeemed itself from the usual idiocy. My optimism was apparently misplaced.

Before we address some of the more egregious errors, a brief recap: Every year around this time, the National Retail Federation (NRF) commissions a survey on holiday shopping with BIGinsight. They ask people what they spent on Shopmas last year, and what they plan on spending this year. From that survey, they then make projections as to what total retail sales will be for the Thanksgiving weekend.

We know from both academic studies and experience that people are very bad at forecasting their own behavior. We also have a years of history to look at what these NRF surveys claim and what actually sales data looks like. In 2005, the NRF forecast a 22% increase in holiday shopping gains for the Thanksgiving weekend. The results? Up just 1 percent. 2006:  An 18.9% forecast, versus reality of 5%. 2007 NRF forecast a 4%versus an  “unexpected” drop of 0.4% — the weakest holiday season since 2002. In 2008, they somehow forecast gains of 2.2% — sales actually fell 6%. In 2010, Black Friday weekend sales rise were estimated at 9.2%; they rose 5.5%.

I did not forget 2009: The NRF’s 2009 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey for holiday shopping reflected an awe-inspiring drop of 43% versus 2008. Sales actually rose about 3%.

The data supports the theory: There is zero correlation between what people say their gift shopping intentions are on these surveys, and what they actually spend.

This might lead you to think that the media to be somewhat circumspect in reporting the breathless nonsense from an industry PR group; that merely reprinting a press release is not actual journalism; Perhaps you might suspect a lack of basic math skills would dissuade you from financial reporting.

However, you would be wrong.

A quick review of some of the media that should know better, with a special shout out to two media people who should know better: 60 Minutes / CBS anchor Scott Pelley, and (They both stunk the joint far below their usual commitments to excellence). The rest of the Hall of Shame are simply the usual suspects:
Black Friday Hall of Shame 

Bloomberg: Retailers Keep Deals Flowing on 13% Holiday-Sales Jump

“Spending per shopper averaged $423 — $25 more than last year — from Thursday to Sunday, while total spending increased nearly 13 percent, to an estimated $59.1 billion, according to a survey the National Retail Federation released Sunday afternoon.”

No, sales did not jump 13% — what rose were people’s spending intentions (which we know are false). Kudos to Bloomberg’s Michael McKee who mentioned on the television show In The Loop how wrong this reporting was.

CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley: You would not think that a 60 Minutes Anchor would be just another rip & reader, but the lead story on Monday was just that — a word for word repeat of the NRF press release nonsense.  Simply awful.
CS Monitor: Black Friday record: Weekend sales up 13 percent

Black Friday record pushes spending to $59 billion over four days. By extending Black Friday, retailers made it easy to shop and drew in record numbers of shoppers.

No, no it didn’t.

Chicago Tribune: Upbeat start to holiday shopping with $59B weekend

“Spending per shopper averaged $423 — $25 more than last year — from Thursday to Sunday, while total spending increased nearly 13 percent, to an estimated $59.1 billion, according to a survey the National Retail Federation released Sunday afternoon.”

Well, at least they said it was a survey from the NRF.

NewsdayBlack Friday weekend sales hit record $59B

An estimated 139.4 million shoppers spent 12.8 percent more than the same period last year, according to the National Retail Federation. Online retail sales on Black Friday also topped $1 billion for the first time.

At least they noted it was an estimate; too bad they did not note its awful track record.

CNN: Black Friday shopping hits a new record

Customers flocked in to early store openings on Thanksgiving day to scoop up “doorbuster” deals. A record 247 million shoppers visited stores and websites in the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday weekend this year, up 9% from 226 million last year, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation released Sunday.

Individual shoppers also shelled out more money — spending $423 this weekend, up from $398 last year. Total spending over the four-day weekend reached a record $59.1 billion, a 13% increase from $52.4 billion last year, according to the NRF.

I enjoyed the Weekly Standard mocking CNN by noting according to CNN: All Adults in America Went Shopping on Black Friday Weekend

ReutersBlack Friday sales down due to Thursday deals: ShopperTrak

ShopperTrak, which counts foot traffic in retail stores, estimated Black Friday sales of $11.2 billion, down 1.8 percent from the same day last year.

“More retailers than last year began their ‘doorbuster’ deals on Thursday, Thanksgiving itself,” said ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin. “Those Thursday deals attracted some of the spending that is usually meant for Friday.”

Retail foot traffic rose 3.5 percent to almost 308 million store visits on Black Friday, with the largest increases in the U.S. Midwest, ShopperTrak also reported.

Counting foot traffic does not correlate with sales. It is at best a rough estimate. Try npot to put a dollar sales number on it.

USA TodayRetailers hail Black Friday weekend as best ever

Retailers are already calling the biggest holiday shopping “weekend” of the season the best ever.  All signs point to a huge Cyber Monday, as more consumers turned to computers and mobile devices to begin looking for deals over the weekend.  More shoppers came out Thanksgiving night, more shoppers hit stores on Black Friday, more shopped online. And everyone spent more.

Notice how similar these stories all read? That is because they essentially copy the press release verbatim.

Associated Press: Black Friday online sales surpassed $1 billion for the first time

All told, a record 247 million shoppers visited stores and websites over the four-day weekend starting on Thanksgiving, up 9.2 percent of last year, according to a survey of 4,000 shoppers that was conducted by research firm BIGinsight for the trade group. Americans spent more too: The average holiday shopper spent $423 over the entire weekend, up from $398 last year. Total spending over the four-day weekend totaled $59.1 billion, up 12.8 percent from 2011.

That’s your Black Friday hall of shame for 2012.

It is my assumption that the NRF propaganda is an attempt to create an environment of social pressure: EVERYONE is shopping, so you better get out there and shop too! Only one hopes the media would do a better job of checking that. Only they don’t. The media’s job should be to inform — not MISINFORM — their readership. On Black Friday reporting, they are failing miserably.

(Perhaps I should do this each year, and circulate the post to various media observers . . .)

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