Why You Need to Ignore Early Holiday Sales Results

What people are writing about:

Black Friday and the holiday weekend saw strong consumer spending.

What they're missing:

None of this is very meaningful.


With Thanksgiving and Black Friday behind us, we're now starting to get the early trickle of articles reporting on early retailer sales results. Generally, they've been fairly positive. But here's a huge list of reasons on why you shouldn't be making decisions based on these reports:

  • Black Friday sales as a percentage of total holiday sales are tiny. We've got some crucial weeks ahead of us that can really change the trend.
  • There has been a growing trend where consumers have shopped closer and closer to holiday events. That means that they show up for Black Friday and Christmas, but are dead quiet in between.
  • These reports are notoriously inaccurate.
  • Holiday weather can have a huge impact on results as well. Last year, winter storms forced many retailers to miss their guidance.
  • These reports are for sales, but they don't take into account gross margin trends. For example, even if Best Buy is able to report strong sales trends, the key question is whether they are able to do so while maintaining their margins during the ultra-competitive holiday period when Walmart and Amazon use the consumer electronics category as a loss-leader to drive traffic to stores.
  • Some of these reports don't take into account online/mobile traffic, which is growing every year.
  • To complicate things even further, FedEx and UPS both were unable to deliver all shipments on time last year due to the rush of last-minute orders and the bad weather. This may have contributed to lost sales for online retailers, and it could happen again this year.

These reports generate lots of media attention, but it's just noise that many professional investors ignore.