CBS News Complains of Lackluster Christmas Shopping Season

     “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun,” King Solomon wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes. At the beginning of a new year, that timeless proverb is true when it comes to the media’s perennially pessimistic portrait of the Christmas shopping season.

     On Jan. 4, 2006, the Business & Media Institute tracked the media’s pessimistic view of the 2005 Christmas shopping season. BMI found the media’s gloomy picture of holiday shopping in 2005 didn’t correspond with reality. Not only were retail sales strong, consumer confidence rebounded significantly in December 2005 from the month before.

     “This boost in confidence flies in the face of all this media pessimism,” BMI wrote at the time.

     How little things have changed.

    “Anthony Mason tells us the latest report today on Christmas sales shows they were very ho ho hum,” CBS anchor Katie Couric told her January 4 “Evening News” audience.

    Mason presented some good news, but found a way to quickly spin it into a negative.

     “The preliminary numbers show that January is going to be a better year than last year, and last year was the best January ever,” retail analyst Marshal Cohen told Mason.

    “Retailers need one,” Mason snarked, pointing to a “disappointing” December, complaining about plunging sales at The Gap and Ann Taylor. “Even mammoth Wal-Mart” was up just under one percent growth, “its worst sales growth in more than a decade,” Mason noted.

     But as the January 5 Wall Street Journal reported, holiday sales figures don’t account for Internet purchases and gift cards. Indeed, “redemptions of gift cards could give retailers a lift in January, when roughly half” of them are redeemed, “often to buy full-price merchandise,” reported the paper’s James Covert.

     What’s more, a January 4 InformationWeek story by W. David Gardner reported online sales up 24 percent in 2006.

     “The online holiday shopping season of course played a vital role in the year’s success as spending accelerated during the final two months of the year,” Gian Fulgoni of online traffic analysis firm comScore Networks told Information Week.

     On top of strong sales, the economy is doing well, with strong job growth and wage numbers as well as low unemployment.

     “Employers in the U.S. added a greater-than-expected 167,000 workers to payrolls in December and incomes grew by the most in eight months, adding to evidence the economy is weathering a slump in housing and manufacturing,” Joe Richter and Carlos Torres of Bloomberg News reported on January 5, the morning after Mason’s story.