Who do you trust, the National Retail Federation's survey of online shopping or the actual numbers themselves?
When in doubt I say go with the numbers themselves.
This morning we were bombarded not only with National Retail Federation figures that show sharp declines on Black Friday and the rest of the weekend at the brick-and-mortar stores, but we read that, and I quote the New York Times, "the web failed to attract more shoppers or spending over the four day holiday period."
Sounds pretty dire, right? But there are, lies, damned lies and statistics, to quote a phrase popularized by Mark Twain, and the web, by nature, has statistics. What do they say? The statistics say that it was an amazing weekend.
While the stock's been a huge bummer, we are quite fond of the work that ChannelAdvisor (ECOM) does in analyzing the actual numbers. What does ChannelAdvisor say? In a terrific piece of Internet research on ChannelAdvisor's figures by Topeka Capital Markets' Internet Media analyst Victor Anthony, we learned that, and I quote, "Online sales up 23% year over year from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Saturday." That doesn't sound like much of a decline. Or how about this: "Amazon up an average of 32%." And that's before today's Cyber Monday figures.
Don't trust ChannelAdvisor? Then how about comScore, another company that I find has more authoritative numbers than the Retail Federation? The chief arbiter of online numbers says e-commerce spending rose 32% on Thanksgiving Day to $1.01 billion. That's a huge percentage increase. How about Black Friday? Try this one on for size: a gain of 26% to $1.5 billion.
Now I am not in denial of the weakness in mall shopping. That's been called out time and again by me, thanks to the excellent analytics offered by Starbucks (SBUX), which saw the mall's sun setting. Yes, there are exceptions. L Brands (LB) has been putting up terrific numbers. And we know that some retailers just keep delivering and delivering, such as Costco (COST), which also has the benefit of falling gasoline prices on the wholesale level, with prices to you not falling as fast -- a nice gross margin expander.
Of course, we all expected that the brick-and-mortar companies would do better given the decline in gasoline prices. To be sure, the real numbers aren't in yet. However, if you go back and read the comments from, say Macy's (M), Target (TGT) and Wal-Mart (WMT) about the holiday season they were nowhere near as robust as the stocks, which have been on fire, would indicate.
The most important takeaway, though, is not that online flopped, too. It's that Black Friday in the mall is no longer as important and online sales are more important than ever.
When the smoke clears, I bet we see a real nice increase in consumer spending for the holidays. We just have to track it in ways that aren't sampling as much as being truly analytical based on the best information available. That, to me, means go with the online pros, ChannelAdvisor and comScore, not with the data of yesteryear from the Retail Federation.