WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Counting the Christmas Profits

Dec 26, 2013

Christmas is over, and with it, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and the rest of the holiday-shopping gimmicks.

Except one. Soon, Big Merchants who made forecasts of holiday shopping will start to cry “Woe is me.”

The numbers are not in. But this poor-mouth “game” by chain-store corporations – and much of Wall Street relying on holiday business’s boost – every year tries to create commercial traffic, then sets a land-speed record back-pedaling almost in spite of whatever business actually takes place.

Bill Knight

Historically, holiday sales can account for up to 40 percent of annual revenues, and there were fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. So retailer anxiety might be understandable.

But the Big Boys in Big Business manipulating their “expectations” into “disappointment” almost regardless of outcome is rude, crude calculating to influence business factors from stock prices and post-holiday marketing to appeals for more government handouts and other subsidies.

All of the projections and estimates, polling and economist spit-balling ranged from 2 percent to 4.9 percent increases in consumer spending from last holiday season to this season.

In west-central Illinois, there have been less-positive expectations, affected by worries over family finances, the economy, business conditions, unemployment and interest rates, according to the most recent study by Dr. Bernard Goitein, Director of Research at Bradley University’s Foster College of Business.

In this area, consumer confidence is down – a 2.8 percent decline, from 75.9 to 73.7, Goitein reported, using information gleaned from 188 interviews, a method somewhat comparable to broadcasters’ old diaries and feedback collected by Arbitron, Nielsen and so on.

Forbes magazine echoed that sobering caution, warning that “shoppers will spend even less this year than last.”

However – perhaps reflecting the inherent problems of economic forecasting – Nielsen said its own survey of a representative sampling of 22,000 Americans shows that consumer sentiment is the strongest it’s been in six years. About a fourth of holiday shoppers have started buying already, says Nielsen.

Joel Bines, a managing partner with the consulting firm AlixPartners, said, “Consumers have historically showed themselves to be not very good at telling us what they're going to do.”

Meanwhile, Adobe Systems’ “marketing cloud technology” for the country’s top 500 stores says the shorter holiday season could translate into more online shopping, and that hurts local businesses, of course.

Still, Nielsen predicted a holiday-shopping gain of 2 percent over 2012.

ShopperTrak, a shopper analytics provider, forecast growth of 2.4 percent.

The National Retail Federation? It saw a 3.9 percent boost in sales, to more than $602 billion.

AlixPartners, that global business and consulting firm, said holiday shopping could be up between 4.1 and 4.9 percent.

The Wall Street Journal, for its part, said this holiday season could be “the worst since 2009.”

The news media traditionally get sucked into this easy story, not unlike the slanted, predictable nonsense pushed by the right-wing Tax Foundation, which gets substantial coverage of its “Tax Freedom Day” marking the number of weeks taxpayers supposedly have to work to pay their taxes.

(Very few such quick-and-thoughtless stories put in to context the number of days that everyday people would have to work to pay for medical costs, Social Security benefits, corporate subsidies to profitable companies that send jobs overseas, and so on.)

Anyway, this cynical, hypocritical holiday-shopping “game” is a way for Big Business to predict something like a 4 percent gain, and later to bemoan a “disappointing” season of, say, a 3 percent increase (like last year) – while neglecting to note that most people would do cartwheels in the snow if their wages went up ONLY 3 percent.

Even a 1 percent gain is a GAIN.  

Contact Bill at Bill.Knight@hotmail.com; his twice-weekly columns are archived at billknightcolumn.blogspot.com

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.