A Month-Long Black Friday?

Peter Weber highlights a new survey:

According to the [National Federation of Retailers]’s survey, by Prosper Insights & Analytics, weekend sales dropped to an estimated $50.9 billion, from $57.4 billion in 2013, and about 133.7 million people said they shopped online or in stores over the four days, a 5.2 percent drop from last year. The retail trade group stood by its forecast that over the entire season, spending will rise 4.1 percent from 2013, but it had a bunch of conflicting explanations for why Black Friday weekend was a relative bust, especially given dropping gas prices and increasing consumer confidence.

Steven Perlberg sums it up:

The fact remains that while Black Friday has become an American institution – with its brawls and stampedes well-documented across social media – it has also decreased in economic relevance as shopping habits shift.

But Barry Ritholtz questions the survey’s methodology:

Ask a person a specific question, and you will typically get a specific answer. The problem is that the answer is either guesswork or fabricated, bearing little if any resemblance to reality. You have no idea what you spent on holiday shopping last year. You have no idea what you are going to spend on holiday shopping this year. The net result of comparing one made-up number with a second made-up number is a random outcome lacking any relationship to actual spending.

These are facts of human behavior. Credible survey methods seem to be wholly unfamiliar to the NRF. Why bother when the fiction works so well? In truth, no one has an idea what the holiday sales were as of yet.

Ed Morrissey notes that sales are hardly limited to the immediate aftermath of Thanksgiving:

If people find good deals before Thanksgiving, they’ll be a lot more inclined to take advantage of them at the moment rather than enter the Thunderdome on the day after Thanksgiving, especially given the contrivances and artificial shortages that would force them into the lines early in the morning. If Black Friday is dying, as some early data suggested, it’s because retailers themselves are making the day less relevant. It may also be because die-hard discount shoppers know they can get the same deals or better by holding out to the end [.] …

Shoppers are wising up, and retailers will get a little more competitive as a result. That doesn’t make Black Friday a dud, but in a couple of more years, it might become an irrelevant measure — and perhaps an object lesson in desensitizing consumers after repeated panic tactics. One can only cry “Wolf!” or “Limited supply!” so often before losing all credibility.

Joe Pinsker elaborates on how clever shoppers can see through sales tactics:

Many retailers depend on cultivating a sense of urgency in shoppers, which leads them to spend irrationally on a deal they believe could evaporate any minute. Cutting through that anxiety might be possible with a shift in mindset: A recent study suggests that when people reflect on a time when they felt grateful, they can become less intent on instant gratification. In fact, those who were merely happy or amused were willing to sacrifice $100 in a year for $18 immediately, but those who were primed to feel grateful were patient enough to draw the line at $30. Another study, to be published early next year, suggests that disciplined people aren’t actually less impulsive in the moment; they just choose to limit the number of tough decisions they have to make.