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Black Friday sales are down, and that tells us nothing

If it's the Monday after Thanksgiving, it's the time for articles talking about the strength of Black Friday sales (this year they were down, according to the inevitable National Retail Federation press release). Content-producers gotta produce their content, but just keep in mind that this kind of thing is meaningless.

Not only is Black Friday a poor indicator of the state of the economy, Neil Irwin pointed out a couple of years ago that it's not even a good indicator of holiday retail sales. This Capital Economics chart above is now missing two years of data, but it makes the point very well. Years with higher-than-average Black Friday sales don't necessarily have higher sales for the Holiday season as a whole. The precise timing of when people do their Christmas shopping is pretty variable, and whether or not there's a rush of post-Thanksgiving buying tells us nothing at all.

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