NRF Flacks Can’t Agree On Whether Holiday Shopping is Strong or Weak

I have my own way of estimating holiday shopping. All over America, photographers spread out on Black Friday hoping to snap pictures of seething mobs. But when I browsed through the shopping pictures on our photo service, I found nothing. Barely even some crowds, let alone mobs. This picture is typical, and I'd say it portends a pretty mediocre holiday season.Richard B. Levine/Levine Roberts via ZUMA

Here is the LA Times this morning:

Thanksgiving weekend shopping is down.

This year, more than 165 million people shopped from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, which beat the NRF’s expectation of 164 million but fell short of the roughly 174 million who shopped during the same period last year.

The average shopper’s spending total for the holiday weekend was lower this year — $313.29, down from last year’s $335.47….“Almost across the board, people just haven’t been starting their shopping as early this year,” said Mark Mathews, vice president of research development and industry analysis at the NRF.

But don’t give up hope! Here’s the AP story on holiday shopping:

Retail group says holiday season off to a strong start

This year, there were more than 165 million people who shopped online or in stores from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, based on survey results. Last year, that figure was 174 million. The retail group attributed the drop to stores spreading out their deals beyond the Black Friday weekend.

“This was a very strong holiday weekend,” said Bill Thorne, a spokesman at the trade group. The group now says it expects sales for November and December will be at the high end of its earlier forecast of a 4.3 to 4.8 percent rise. That would be below last year’s 5.3 percent increase but well above the average annual increase of 3.9 percent of the past five years.

Everyone agrees that 165 million holiday shoppers were out this weekend, down from 174 million this year. With average spending per person also down, a bit of arithmetic tells us that weekend totals were down 11 percent this year. That’s a big drop, and the NRF’s VP of industry analysis is understandably bummed.

And yet, the NRF’s spokesman is chuffed. Somehow, this decline has him optimistic that total sales for the months of November and December will be up around 4.8 percent. Ka-ching!

So which is it?