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December 26, 2002

ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE: NOT ALWAYS WRONG! At least, suggestions here that Christmas shopping seemed light are echoed by this story declaring that the Christmas shopping season was the "worst holiday season in 30 years."

On the other hand, a closer reading of the story indicates that what's "worst" is the increase in sales. That's right, sales were bigger than last year, just not by as much as usual:

In a weekly report on Tuesday, the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishiand UBS Warburg forecast holiday sales in November and December would be up an anemic 1.5 percent over last year, the smallest gain since the banks began tracking weekly sales in 1970.

That makes the headline and the lede, which are pretty alarmist, seem less so. (It's a Reuters story). But things may be bad. Walmart is reporting weak sales growth consistent with the story quoted above, and an actual drop in sales at Sam's Club. Meanwhile, I was at Target this morning and the aisles were clogged (literally!) with deeply discounted clearance merchandise, but not with shoppers. I was in and out in a trice, but this suggest to me that (1) they didn't sell all that stuff before Christmas; and (2) they still aren't selling it now. This -- plus the fact that everyone we know seems to have a lot of stuff, and complain more about lack of closet spacee than about lack of possessions -- suggests to me that consumers are bought-out. There just isn't new stuff to buy that people want enough to spend the money.

Am I right? We'll know soon.

UPDATE: Bill Hobbs offers this perspective:

Let's get this straight: 1999 was the best year in history for retailers. But then came 2000 and it was 4 percent better. And then came 2001 and it was 2.3 percent better than 2000. And this year is expected to be one percent better than 2001. So 2002 is now the best year in history for retailers - despite the sluggish economy.

Yet, the retail industry is poor-mouthing it like sales were down. They weren't. Sales were up.

Good point. And so is this one on Internet sales taxes.

UPDATE: Here's more bad news, suggesting that sales may actually be down from last year when all is said and done.