Dec. 2019

Data Without Context


It is great to see data-driven decisions move beyond the financial markets and the strategic planning areas for businesses. My issue today is looking at data with context. From the Washington Post:

A record 189.6 million Americans went shopping over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend, the National Retail Federation said, and most of them did their spending online.

The new bar represents a 14-percent increase from last year, the industry lobbying group said. About 48 million consumers shopped only in stores, 66 million shopped only online, and 76 million shopped both in stores and online.

Wow, it appears consumers are spending freely. Or are they? I don’t want to talk delinquencies on credit cards, student loans, subprime car loans, and so on. This isn’t an investment post. This is about making smart, data-informed decisions.

The big issue: in 2018, Thanksgiving fell on November 22. In 2019, however, it fell on November 28. This removes six shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. With fewer days to shop, they must shop faster. So is the increase in shoppers due to time compression (the pressure to shop faster) or a real increase in spending? The data is not conclusive either way.

This compression by itself should cause an increase in daily retail and online sales. Imagine your business’s biggest project of the year being compressed by over 20%! Even FedEx and UPS are quaking in their boots trying to get everything delivered on time. 

For the sake of our direct-to-consumer clients, wholesale clients, and the economy as a whole, I am hopeful that we have an up year in holiday sales. Just don’t break out the champagne too early. When reexamining the data with context—you’ll probably discover deeper insights than initially perceived. 

In marketing, false positives are rampant, especially among the uninitiated. At E5A, we seek data, verification, and context to optimize our client work. This is another way we deliver marketing alpha.




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