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Black Friday sales may not be what they seem

December 1, 2011

Shoppers rush to get the famous Black Friday deals

Photo Courtesy Radionowindy.com

“Black Friday” has earned a reputation as America’s national day of unabashed consumerism, and this year’s sales numbers were higher than ever before.

According to the National Retail Federation, sales spiked up from $365.34 to $398.62 from last year’s biggest shopping weekend, with an additional 14 million shoppers joining in on the late-night madness, up to 226 million from 212 million.

But numbers can be deceiving. This year many of the country’s largest retailers opened their doors at midnight rather than the typical 5 a.m. opening times from last year.

That’s 30 percent more time to shop leading to just a 7 percent increase in sales.

“The appetite for these early openings is only getting stronger among holiday shoppers, and retailers did a great job providing Americans just what they wanted this weekend – the ability to shop on Black Friday without having to get out of bed before dawn,” said BIGresearch Executive Vice President Phil Rist. “Consumers are clearly demonstrating their desire to spend this holiday season, and shopping early and often seem to be their new mantra as they seek the best value for all their holiday purchases.”

Black Friday shows its dark side

According to the NRF, 24.4 percent of shoppers were at stores by midnight, either waiting for them to open or at a retailer that opened on the eve of Thanksgiving. That’s up from 9.5 percent last year and 3.3 percent in 2009.

Trusting reports of a 7 percent increase in sales is also questionable. As TheStreet.com points out, many statistical analyses fail to adjust for inflation, rendering them “utterly useless.”

What this means for the overall economic outlook is that things aren’t as good as they seem. TheStreet.com along with other reputable market-watch sites have questioned the integrity of the tools used to gauge the increase in sales traffic because they were designed to measure foot traffic.

Historically, Black Friday sales have been greatly over exaggerated by retailers and the media, sometimes because of faulty data, but often also because it provides a glimmer of hope during an otherwise dismal economic period.

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