NY Times and AP Portray Shopping Season As So-So At Best

     Getting an accurate portrayal of the 2005 Christmas shopping season is like gathering information on that new Italian restaurant youve heard about but want to try out for yourself. You want to get a wide range of opinions before you make up your mind. If you rely on one particularly bad review without having heard good reviews, you might end up missing out.

     Unfortunately, the media lately have focused on one review of the shopping season while leaving out more positive assessments done by other researchers.

     In focusing exclusively on analysis from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), the New York Times and Associated Press (AP) left out analysis from ShopperTrak and Visa USA which reported a strong shopping season, even though the Times previously recorded ShopperTraks downbeat projections from December.

     In his January 6 article, Retailers Find Little to Cheer, New York Times reporter Michael Barbaro called an overall 3.2-percent sales increase in December 2005 for retailers a decent, if unspectacular performance. USA Todays Money section printed a story the same day by Anne DInnocenzio of the Associated Press that similarly labeled the sales figures, tabulated by the ICSC as modest. DInnocenzio called the 2005 Christmas shopping season respectable overall disappointing for some of the nations most prominent merchants.

     Investors Business Daily, however, reported that most retailers surpassed their sales goals. Retailers' same-store sales overall rose 3.4% vs. a year earlier, beating analysts' estimates of a 3.1% gain, reported IBDs Marilyn Much in the January 6 paper, citing Ken Perkins of research firm Retail Metrics. Much added that Sixty-four percent of the firms tracked in Retail Metrics' index beat views, while only 36% fell short. Typically, 55% beat estimates and 42% fall short.

     The same day, the Washington Posts Ylan Qui chronicled the 3.2-percent increase cited in the Times and AP, but added that Other industry groups reported better numbers. Market-research firm ShopperTrak said total retail sales grew 4.4 percent in December, compared with the same month in 2004 Meanwhile, Visa USA said charges on its credit and debit cards rose 17.5 percent this holiday season over the same period in 2004.

     The AP and New York Times left ShopperTrak and Visa out of their January 6 stories, although Barbaro relied on ShopperTraks initial downbeat projections for the Christmas shopping season to color his mid-December article, Shopping Crowds Seem Lighter at the Mall This Year.

     For December so far, customer traffic has fallen 3.3 percent and sales have dropped 9 percent, compared with 2004, according to ShopperTrak, a market research firm that monitors activity in thousands of mall-based stores, chronicled the Times reporter.

     Even with his pessimistic outlook, Barbaro closed his article conceding that ShopperTraks co-founder Bill Martin cautioned that he was not worried about the health of the season. The next 10 days, he said, will make a big difference.

     Those next few days did make a difference, as ShopperTrak reported in its January 4 press release. Said Martin of the 4.4-percent growth in end-of-year sales, we can look at December and see that it made a strong showing in comparison to a very healthy December in 2004.

     Martins ShopperTrak provides data that show the fact of a strong economy, but reporting that fact doesnt seem to be on the medias list of New Years resolutions.

     The Business & Media Institute has written previously about the medias skewed portrayal of the 2005 Christmas shopping season as well as the medias Top Ten Economic Myths of 2005.