Thursday, November 24, 2011

Some “Black” Perspectives

Black Friday, this year, begins in the evening of Turkey Thursday, and the smell of our retailers’ tangible hysteria almost hides the pleasing odors of that roasting bird. I thought I’d look at retail sales by month and see what the pattern looks like for some years going backwards.

Here is the first such chart. It shows all retail sales by month, excluding only motor vehicles and parts.

There is certainly a “lift” in sales between October and November in the three years selected, 1992, 2002, and 2010. But the real lift actually comes in December. What color do we paint the last month of the year?

The increase in sales, while meaningfully present above, is not exactly dramatic, of course, while the sales-leap in December is. I thought I’d look at a narrower segment, General Merchandise Stores. Here is the graphic for these:

General merchandise stores certainly show much sharper increases than retail as a whole. In 1992 all retail increased (October to November) by a mere 1.6 percent; general merchandise store sales increased by 19.3 percent! So that’s where we really get this new way of celebrating Thanksgiving.

An interesting phenomenon now appears. As we advance in time, the monthly growth rates experienced by general merchandise stores decline. In 2002 they advanced 17 and in 2010 only 13.2 percent. Meanwhile all retail (ex automotive) increased from the 1.6 percent base in 1992 to 3.9 percent in 2002 and 4.4 percent in 2010. All retail, of course, includes the general merchandise category. The panic seems to relate more directly to people who sell special goods that, perhaps, are more discretionary.

What will 2011 bring? It will be interesting to see. And we can be sure the results will be very well reported—because the holidays, these days, mean shopping. And little else.

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