Merited or not, people who think about the health of the economy worry a lot about the volume of retail sales during the weekend after Thanksgiving. These days, though, there are a ton of ways to measure it: Total dollar value on just Black Friday, or Thanksgiving as well? Or the whole weekend? What about foot traffic in malls, and dollars per person? And where does online shopping fit into all this? To make matters worse, private data companies and trade associations track the numbers differently, resulting in a holiday blizzard of trend metrics.
In brief, the numbers for this year were good: ShopperTrak reported that total sales increased 2.3 percent from last year, to $12.3 billion on Thursday and Black Friday combined. According to Adobe, online sales on Cyber Monday jumped 16 percent from last year to $2.29 billion. To see what all this looks like over time, let's turn to the National Retail Federation and the Census Bureau, which have some handy graphing tools.
Overall, the shopping story has been relentlessly positive since 2009, with retail sales growing at about the same rate that they did pre-recession:
Those are seasonally adjusted, though. If you look at the peaks around the holiday season, those are getting higher too:
That's partly because shopping is more concentrated around Thanksgiving, with more adults are saying they plan to go buy stuff during the holiday weekend, according to the NRF's survey data:
Turning to e-commerce, sales are also increasing year by year. IBM's data show how we shop online over the course of Cyber Monday, with the total volume rising over the past 3 years:
The growth rate, however, is not exponential. Here's the total volume of e-commerce:
And here's the rate of growth:
Online sales are also still a tiny percentage of overall volume -- only 6 percent, according to the Census Bureau. That means that despite prognostications of Black Friday's death, it'll be a long time before they actually overtake brick and mortar sales. At the rate they're growing now, about 4 percent market share over a decade, it could even be a century:
So don't get too confused by all the numbers. Overall, we're steadily buying more stuff, which is good for the economy, even if it's not as good for our souls.