Every year, Black Friday provides news outlets with at least of a weekend worth of stories, most of which illustrate the worst of our capitalist society. Reading about the obscene amounts of money that Americans spend at the start of the holiday season serves as a welcome distraction from the articles about violence and rioting that occurs among shoppers. This year, some of the biggest news stories about Black Friday included the mess created by bargain-hunters in a Nike store, the FBI’s claim that there were a record-number of gun background checks processed, and that the numbers show that more shoppers were out spending less money than last year.

Image (CC BY 2.0) Courtesy of Diario Critico Venezuela
Image (CC BY 2.0) Courtesy of Diario Critico Venezuela

The biggest story that I saw pop-up again and again on Facebook and Twitter was that there were more shoppers out this year than in past years, but that they spent less on average than they had last year.

Each story reporting this trend has been citing a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation. Based on this survey, news outlets like Market Watch, Fortune, and CNBC reported that shoppers spent an average of $289.19 over the four-day weekend compared with the same period last year during which they spent $299.60. According the same survey from the NRF, approximately 99.1 million shoppers went out to stores while 108.5 million shopped from home, making online purchases.

In response to this slew of articles reporting on this sales data, Barry Ritholtz a columnist for Bloomberg View wrote an article focusing on the survey itself and explaining why the media may be jumping the gun in these reports. As Ritholtz points out, the NRF survey has a poor track record in terms of accuracy. This isn’t hard to believe when he goes on to explain that these numbers are coming from consumer self-reporting. Rather than looking at data from stores and credit card companies, these reports are basing their numbers on the answers that people gave when asked how much they planned to spend over the weekend.

It seems that every year, Ritholtz writes the same article debunking the sales reports that come out over Thanksgiving weekend and he doesn’t expect to see a change in the coming years.


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