What I learned at the mall

Mary Katherine Mallrat, for whom the mall is, like, totally the Library of Alexandria, uses her Super Nancy Drew Decoder Charm Bracelet to solve the Post-Election Headline Code:

It’s sounding like Black Friday shopping was big this year.

I ventured out last year and bought myself a pair of jeans. Yeah, I know. Bah humbug, right? But I’m not ready to shop for anyone else this early in the season.

Early reports last year seemed to indicate that the season would be good, and it was, but a lot of news outlets did their darndest to hide the good under gloomy headlines and misleading ledes on this day a year ago. But now that the New Age of Prosperity in a Time of Democratic Controlâ„¢ has dawned, the stories look very different on this day after Black Friday, 2006. Let’s compare and contrast.

New York Post, 2005:

Big Sales Lure Reluctant Holiday Shoppers

Several major retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Macy’s, as well as mall operator Taubman Centers Inc., estimated they drew bigger crowds for the official holiday season launch than last year.

Sure, there were a lot of shoppers, but they were very reluctant.

New York Post, 2006: Stores Score Big as Shopping Season Starts Off With a Bang

Millions of crazed Christmas shoppers stormed retailers across the city and the nation yesterday to take advantage of the wee-morning store hours and spectacular sales – making it one of the strongest starts to the holiday season in years.

The National Retail Federation is predicting that sales this holiday season will rise a whopping 5 percent from last year – to $457 billion…

It was absolute madness as those shoppers, armed with lists, circulars and cash to burn, lined up outside stores in the city before dawn to snag the cheapest deals on electronics, toys and clothes.

Of course, you may know the New York Post as the official party organ of the Democratic Party, so you’re probably not a flummoxed as Mary Katherine. But then: who is?

The fact of the matter is it doesn’t matter how many people come out at 4:30 in the morning the day after Thanksgiving to buy $4 DVD’s and a $9.27 Wal-Mart Bag O’Crapâ„¢. With the exception of the gotta-have-it items like Tickle-Me Dyslexic Lemo the early dollar shoppers are driven by loss leader items (products sold below cost) which are offered as a bet that those same shoppers will purchase lesser discounted items or, praise be, full-margin items. Says Mary Kate NotOlsen:

The bottom line is I don’t think there’s a whole lot you can know, scientifically, about Black Friday sales until retailers turn in their numbers on Dec. 1, but there’s a whole lot you can learn about the press in the way they approach the early reporting.

Actually, there isn’t a lot you can know about Black Friday sales, even when numbers are released on 12/1, if they don’t indicate net margins. Any fool can increase same store sales for a month by offering across the board discounts or low-to-no margin promotional goods. But at the end of the day, or more importantly at the end of the fiscal quarter, margin is the king that decides whether you live or die.

Take the Black Friday numbers with a grain of salt.Take MK’s words with a jumbo Wal-Mart sized one…

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