Dynamist Blog

How Many Shoppers?

Carl Bialik, the WSJ's "Numbers Guy," sorts through dueling estimates of Thanksgiving weekend retail sales. (This link does not require a subscription.) The most obvious way to count sales--asking retailers--won't work, because many stores, notably Wal-Mart, won't say.

"As more and more retailers have given less and less information, you are in search of the Holy Grail, the statistic that will give you some insight," says Michael Niemira, chief economist and director of research for the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group based in New York. "No single statistic out there is totally comprehensive."...

"Hardly any companies comment on how they did on Black Friday," says Merrill Lynch analyst Stacy Turnof, who covers department stores. "It used to be like that years ago, that you called them Monday and they gave you information." Those large companies that have shared information have reported increases well below the 22% cited by NRF (the Online Journal has assembled updates in its Holiday-Sales News Tracker).

Without hard sales data, there's a lot of room for different estimates, using everything from credit card sales to online surveys to videos of mall crowds.

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