Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the Din of Irrelevant Analysis

During the past week — unless you were blissfully disconnected from all sources of media — you were likely inundated with news articles, tweets, posts and endless TV stories about Americans as weapons of massive consumption.

Reporters and pundits alike pontificated about the significance of earlier and earlier store openings, the relentless quest for the best “door busters,” the incredible growth of online shopping and the startling (to some at least) emergence of mobile apps.

Casting aside the glaring irony that after spending a few hours (allegedly) being grateful for all that we have, we quickly pivot and decide that, after further review, we don’t have nearly enough, much of what the media shares about the significance of our shopping habits during the past week is highly misleading.

Consider a few facts:

  1. Historically there has been poor correlation between retailers’ performance during the Thanksgiving weekend and their overall performance for the quarter. In fact, there is growing evidence that there is an inverse correlation.
  2. For most brands, Black Friday and Cyber Monday represent a small percentage of total sales for the holidays.
  3. With Thanksgiving coming early this year, holiday sales are going to be more back-loaded than usual.
  4. As more brands launch promotions prior to Black Friday, consumers spread their sales over more days, making any single event less important.
  5. Sales aren’t profits. Giving product away, and driving an abnormal amount of business to one or two days, wreaks havoc on profitability.

For those of you who breathlessly conclude that a given retailer “won” because of big increases on a given day or that Cyber Monday was a huge success because of a double-digit sales gain, please realize the jury is still out.

A quick anecdote: When I was at Neiman Marcus we kept sweetening the deal on our thrice-yearly InCircle Rewards promotion. Every time we added a new element our comp stores sales went up nicely, and it appeared that the incremental cost of the promotion was more than covered by the extra gross margin dollars we gained during the multiday event.

Then a member of my analytics team wondered if anyone had looked at the possibility that as we made the deal better and better perhaps we were driving sales that would have occurred anyway (at a higher margin) into those sales days. Great question. So we did the analysis.

Lo and behold a comparative analysis that included a week before and after the event showed clearly that there was no appreciable increase in total sales. There was a change, however. Our profits got worse.

The lesson is clear and compelling. Concluding that a sales event was a success without a more complete picture of how consumer behavior was changed over a longer period of time AND without including a profitability analysis is irrelevant.

I can hope that the media will pull back on disseminating useless information or that they will at least provide more helpful context. Not very likely, I know.

But there is one thing I can do. I can pay less attention.

And so can you.

Steven P. Dennis is president and founder of SageBerry Consulting and president of the Dallas-Fort Worth Retail Executives Association. This article first appeared on Steven P. Dennis’ Blog.

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