Huge Confusion Over Holiday Sales Numbers


The fog of war has enveloped estimates of retail activity over the Thanksgiving/Black Friday weekend. That does not matter much; only the numbers for the entire period from November 1 to December 31 do. The balance of the estimates and data have little or no relevance.

Research firm Comscore reported that Black Friday e-commerce sales rose above $1 billion for the first time. The National Retail Federation claimed that total retail sales for the holiday weekend reached $59.1 billion, as 247 million people shopped online and in stores. Some analysts worried that Thanksgiving sales stole sales from Black Friday. Others worried that Cyber Monday sales may be harmed as people did much of their shopping early. But Comscore predicted Cyber Monday sales may top $1.5 billion, up 20% from last year. And finally, all the late November activity may rob retail sales traditionally made in December.

The information about holiday sales became even more confused by statements made by individual retailers. Macy's Inc. (NYSE: M) and Toys"R"Us said store traffic was strong. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) said it posted good store traffic activity on Thanksgiving Day. Many analysts worried that sales at weak retailers like JCPenny Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) might not be enough to salvage horrible year-to-date numbers.

Despite the jumble of forecasts and head counts of people who streamed through doors, the fact is that, for retailers, and the economy in general, all that matters is the final revenue tally for the season. Sales may be moved forward or back for the final two months of the year, from November to December or from December to November. But retailers will not look at those trends on December 31. Their fates will be determined by the numbers for the entire season.

The speculation and research about who bought what, when and where is only so much silly math. The fate of the holidays will not be set by four days in November.

Douglas A. McIntyre

Filed under: 24/7 Wall St. Wire, Retail Tagged: featured, JCP, M, WMT