Bloomberg News seems to be running two stories – on the same subject,
and by the same authors – at the same time. The first has quite an apocalyptic
Consumers Spent Average of 3.5% Less on Shopping". Which is scary since
we were given to understand that sales would rise by 4% or so over the Thanksgiving
weekend. But then comes the second story: "Holiday
Sales Increase; U.S. Shoppers Spend Less on Average" – which
is just plain weird. Apparently total sales on Black Friday were up by 8.3%,
and the 3.5% decline was in sales per person, which wasn’t at all clear
in the first story.
But what no one quite comes out and says is that the number of people shopping
on Black Friday rose by 12.1% this year over last year – which is what
would be necessary in order for those two numbers both to be true. The reason
they don’t come out and say it is that the second story quotes the National
Retail Federation as saying that the number of people shopping rose only 4.8%
Clearly, these three numbers are inconsistent with each other: you can’t have
total sales up 8.3%, sales per person down 3.5%, and total shoppers up 4.8%.
It’s mathematically impossible. But it’s bad form to point out that none of
these numbers are particularly reliable, and that at least one of them has to
be wrong. Instead, you simply report what you’re told, even if it makes your
story read like Lewis Carroll.