National Retail Federation - Why Didn’t You Wait For The Facts?

By Bob Phibbs

national retail federation 11% drop Black Friday

Imagine someone told you the stock market dropped 11%...

Or your home’s value slipped 11%...

Or the child you thought was doing fine was actually struggling mightily…

It would freak you out.

That’s kind of what I felt when I awoke to the New York Times Monday, December 1 and its headline, Thanksgiving Weekend Sales Slide 11 Percent

The first paragraph said, “Sales, both in stores and online, from Thanksgiving through the weekend were estimated to have dropped 11 percent, to $50.9 billion, from $57.4 billion last year...”

Holy cow!

Other news organizations jumped on the data.  The Wall Street Journal reported, Black Friday’ Fades as Weekend Retail Sales Sink. Bloomberg News noted that, Black Friday Fizzles With Consumers as Sales Tumble 11%. Consultants jumped in to opine what it all meant. I too was brought into the frenzy.

What most of us missed, or didn’t absorb was the remaining piece of that sentence ”...according to preliminary survey results released Sunday by the National Retail Federation.”

An excellent article in the Washington Post quoted Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, who said, “It’s not to say that NRF is necessarily wrong. It just hasn’t been a very reliable indicator over time.”

Yet NRF was responsible for what has been quoted widely this year as fact when, in fact it was based on a survey of 4,600 consumers on Nov. 28-29. Based on that, the NRF concluded that holiday weekend sales were “estimated to have dropped 11 percent,”

The Facts

Today we received the real news with a headline U.S. Retail Sales Post Biggest Gain in Eight Months, “Retail sales rose a seasonally-adjusted 0.7 percent, the most in eight months, the Commerce Department said Thursday.”

In another articleit states that, “The NRF has said that its survey offers a snapshot in time and is not tied to its economic forecast. Rather, it shows how shoppers remain cautious and will look for discounts and deals.”

Give me a break!

When I was moderating a panel in October of 2002, NRF’s spokesperson said, “Everything’s going to take a back seat to price. 94% of consumers surveyed said they plan to spend the same or less this year for the holidays.”

That was at the start of the Recession.

Here’s the thing, as I wrote in an earlier post, 7 Retail Headlines To Scare You About This Holiday Season  the media are already looking to write the story that, yet again, Black Friday sales disappoint.

Let’s face it, this trade organization that calls itself the voice of retail provided us with dire news based on what consumers thought they spent.  Why would they publish that? The publishing of it calls into question the mission and validity of their information especially this time when the actual news for the month was very positive.

I thought at the time,  Why give us such gruesome information, when it was not yet validated?

Everyone hoped the news would have been better. Consumers didn’t need to be freaked out... again this year.

Now the media and the nation are jumping up and down at not just the good news, but the extraordinarily good news from November.

And rightly so…

What should happen?

The NRF should employ a more sophisticated process of surveying based on actual receipts, not people’s remembrances of how much they spent the prior year compared to this year.


Because as evidenced by this year, surveys are quoted as facts, and consumer sentiment is affected by the news.

Be the champion of retail, not the boy who cried wolf.

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