A post-Black Friday weekend dispatch at the Associated Press on November 26 reported that "The holiday shopping season got off to a strong start on Black Friday, with retail sales up 7 percent over last year, according to one survey. Now stores just have to keep buyers coming back without the promise of door-buster savings."
It turns out that the originally reported number was far too rosy. Nevertheless, in both late Sunday and early Monday reports, AP retail writers Mae Anderson and Anne D'Innocenzio treated the actual result, which came in 60 percent lower, as "strong." Each report contained the following paragraph (bolds are mine throughout this post):
After a strong Black Friday weekend, the four-day weekend that starts on Thanksgiving, when sales rose 2.7 percent, the lull that usually follows has been even more pronounced.
That increase is even less impressive than it appears when one recalls that so many retailers broke with tradition and opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day. In the Greater Cincinnati area (not kidding), several specialty clothing retailers were open on Thanksgiving Day from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Anderson and D'Innocenzio were careful in their first report not to use a negative word to describe this year's predicted overall Christmas shopping results, but they did describe it as "grim news" in their second, which makes the claim about how "strong" Black Friday weekend was even less defensible. The now anticipated 2.5 percent rise cited in each AP report (unexcerpted) via ShopperTrak is a disappointment for retailers who were already dealing with a predicted rise of only 3.3 percent a month ago. Back in October, the National Retail Federation's prediction for the Christmas shopping season's year-over-increase was 4.1 percent, already down from the 5.6% increase in 2011 over 2010.
Given all of this context, calling Black Friday's 2.7 percent increase "strong" is really pathetic -- as is the AP pair's selection of a shopper who one presumes was selected as someone who was supposed to be typical. In the earlier of the two reports, the woman involved was described as follows:
"It's so hard to put yourself in the mood," said Linda Fitzgerald, a 51-year-old nurse from Yonkers who was with her 17-month-old granddaughter at The Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J., on Saturday. She was out Christmas shopping for the first time this year.
She planned to spend $1,500 on gifts such as clothes for her boyfriend, down dramatically from $4,000 last year. She had expected to start shopping last weekend, but simply didn't feel like it, facing a sister's cancer diagnosis and worry about the economy and the Connecticut shooting.
Wow. Four grand. That guy had better be really well-dressed.
The outsized dollar amounts Ms. Fitzgerald claimed she spent last year and is spending this year disappeared from the AP's later report.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.