The Economic Case for Ignoring Black Friday

The Superbowl of shopping actually doesn't tell us much about the state of consumers.
Reuters

There's nothing more American than stampeding stores on Black Friday to save some money on your holiday shopping. But it's meaningless.

Not meaningless in an existentialist way, though that too. Rather, meaningless as an economic indicator. See, Black Friday sales tell us nothing about overall holiday sales—and hence the state of consumers. You can see that in the chart below from Capital Economics (via Neil Irwin). It compares the change in sales during Thanksgiving week with the change in total sales from November to January. There's not much of a relationship, and if anything, there's a slightly negative correlation. In other words, better Black Fridays are associated with worse holiday sales seasons.

So don't think of the crowds as a referendum on the economy. Some people like to shop on Black Friday, and some people don't, and that's pretty much all there is to say about it. Just think of them as your competition for the best deals.

Not that I need to say that.

Presented by

Matthew O'Brien

Matthew O'Brien is a former senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her middle school. Then Humans of New York told her story to the Internet—and everything changed.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.

Video

'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.

Video

What Fifty Shades Left Out

A straightforward guide to BDSM

More in Business

Just In