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The day after the Thanksgiving holiday in America is called Black Friday, when it is said many retailers begin making a profit for the year, hence being "in the black." The media closely follows the retail sales on Black Friday as one gauge of how the holiday season will unfold. This year sales were up 3% over last year despite the recession.

Or so it has been reported.

We also heard media reports of people being injured and killed in shopper "stampedes" this year. Those are the sorts of anecdotes that stick in your head better than sales statistics.

I mention this because the normally popular store I shopped at this weekend was empty. Sure, it was just one store. Still, that's mighty strange for the biggest shopping period of the year.

My favorite conspiracy theory involves a secret society of powerful people managing the news to create trading opportunities. When things get too peaceful, this group invests heavily in weapons manufacturers and then uses the media to sell a war. When the stock market is in the crapper, the puppet masters buy retail stocks and use the media to paint the holiday season as rosier than it is so they can cash in on the market bump. And so on.

Big money is made when markets fluctuate and when you have better information than other investors. What better way to game the system than to cause the fluctuations yourself?

Now you might argue that such a conspiracy would have to involve so many people that it would be impossible to keep it a secret. I'm not so sure about that. First, you would only need to succeed in manipulating the media 55% of the time, just to pick an example number, and that would be enough to reap huge profits over the long run. And there could still be plenty of dissenting voices and competing points of view, so the manipulation could get lost in the noise.

The key to making the manipulation work is making the manufactured crises more compelling or more "sticky" than the plain vanilla stories that are competing for attention. For example, the story about the shopper stampede only needed to be picked up by one influential news source in order to be copied by all. It could as easily been ignored.

And the stampede story is "sticky" because I will probably remember it for the rest of my life, whereas I won't remember a report of some particular store having lower sales this season. It's the same process used by trial lawyers when they argue their cases in terms of human suffering to have a larger impact on the jury.

It wouldn't require the involvement of many people to control the source of economic statistics. At some point in the process of tabulating the results I assume there is literally one person who sees the total before anyone else. Hypothetically, the "story" of brisk retail sales for Black Friday and shopper stampedes might involve only a few paid conspirators beyond the inner circle of the puppet masters.

I don't actually believe the theory I just described. At least not yet. But if your comments tell me the stores you visited in the past week were empty too, I might revisit that position.

 
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Nov 29, 2010
Cyber Mon is the second-biggest buying day of the year. <a title="Cyber Monday illustrates on the internet deals" href="http://personalmoneystore.com/moneyblog/2010/11/26/cyber-monday-deals/"> Black Friday</a> has the attention, but Cyber Mon is big. Online comparison site Pricegrabber has found that over 1/3 of shoppers expect to find the best bargains online on Cyber Mon. Laptop and netbook bargains are proving to be the middle of pricewars.

 
 
Dec 15, 2008
How will you get around problems caused by the market that is created between those who want to be happy (the under 65s) and those who possess the means (the over 65s with their pills). Just outlawing the transaction will hardly be enough!
 
 
Dec 3, 2008
You're right. They're manipulating the data on top of people maxing out their credit cards. People figure a bailout will come their way too, eventually. The economy is not sound, and the numbers coming out stink something fierce.
 
 
Dec 2, 2008
I was ready to go berserk. Packed. Shouldn't have left the house.
 
 
Dec 2, 2008
I work at a video game store in my hometown, and when I got there at 6:45 there were 30-40 people waiting outside. We were packed all day, except for about a 15 minute period when the only people in the store were the store employees. After I got off of work however, my boyfriend and I went to the Borders across the street, and it was empty, as was the Toys-R-Us, but that was at about 4 in the afternoon, so I can't say what it was like earlier. I know we made a pretty sweet profit, so I can imagine that other businesses did as well.
 
 
Dec 2, 2008
I had a similar experience: In the department store I visited first, around 10:00 AM, I was the only person in the department. It bordered on eerie, and the department was big enough and the store's Christmas music was loud enough that I didn't really gauge how many people were in the rest of the store.

However, when I went to another part of the store to check out, that department was absolutely packed, and when I moved to the mall itself, I only got 30 paces into the mallway before turning around and declaring it too damned crowded.

But at first: just me.
 
 
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Dec 2, 2008
Black Friday is my own, personal holiday and I am one of those shopping at 4 am (after my 90 minute drive to get to civilization!). Normally--as in EVERY OTHER Black Friday, parking is a huge challenge, even at 4 am. When I hike back to my car to drop off packages, at least 5 motorists try for my space. This year, parking was closer...and those who came early, left early and there were tons of spaces. When I went to my next stops, I always got spaces right in front, the stores seemed empty, and heavily advertised superbargains were still to be had at noon. (Lowes still had hundreds of the 24V Black & Decker Combo set, Walmart still had cheap computers and $10 vacuums.) Last year, the line at target wrapped TWICE around the interior of the store. This year, there were maybe 5 people in front of me. Last year, by 6 am, the line at Kohl's was around the store on both levels. This year, there were 2 people in front of me. In Ace, employees outnumbered customers by 3 to 1. In Costco, there were two almost empty carts in front of mine. In every case, people had MUCH emptier carts/armloads and only seemed to be buying the items that were both most heavily discounted and at the lower price points. Every store seemed staffed to the max, with many idle hands, so wages on top of loss leaders tells me that this could not possibly have been a financially successful day.
 
 
Dec 2, 2008
You shouldn't look for a secret conspiracy when an well-known conspiracy is doing the same thing every year. Every black Friday, then National Retail Foundation puts out the results of a survey asking shoppers how much they are going to shop. Every year, when the real results come in, it turns out that the survey is too optimistic. Every year, the newspapers report the survey results without mentioning what happened last year.

This year it may be more obvious since people are desperate for optimistic news.
 
 
Dec 2, 2008
"powerful people managing the news"

Actually there are professionals who do this for you. "Public Relations" firms will get any 'news' you desire printed in almost any publication, an you don't have to be particularly rich or powerful either.

I believe there was a dilbert cartoon earlier on the topic, which ends in the PR guy telling the journalist while giving him a story to print - "You can work or you can get drunk, the pay is the same" or something to that effect.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 2, 2008
"It wouldn't require the involvement of many people to control the source of economic statistics. At some point in the process of tabulating the results I assume there is literally one person who sees the total before anyone else. "

On a similar subject of manipulating economic projections (by a single person or team), I would definately recommend "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" by John Perkins.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 2, 2008
The used Book store I work at in northern California only made slightly over half what it made last year (around 5/9). but my fellow retail friends tell me that their stores did as well or better. Since all their stores had large discounts that day and we didn't have any (books already 50% of new prices) I suspect that that might have had something to do with it. My theory is that with bad economy news people were mostly just out looking for a deal and why rush stampeding black friday crowds to go to a store that is just as cheap next week.
 
 
Dec 1, 2008
deliver more bad news? no someone must have adjusted the figures or else we could have seen the dow drop more then 700 yesterday
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 1, 2008
I suspect that more shoppers go to discount stores this year instead of the fancy mall. The traffic is squeeze to the bottom of the pyramid. Hence the "stampedes".
 
 
Dec 1, 2008
Hm, this is at least hardly the first time stampedes have happened in shopping stores so I'm rather surprised that so many people are suddenly making a big deal about it now as though it never happened. Mainly mentioning this because you referred to it a couple times in there as something that one would never forget.

Of course because it's happened before...
 
 
Dec 1, 2008
The PPT (Plunge Protection Team) manipulates the stock market in order to maintain investor confidence in times of financial crisis.

Can't see why some other organisation/group did not do the same to the retail sales figures to project that everything is OK.
 
 
Dec 1, 2008
I live in Chico, CA, and the stores were deader than disco. Remeber, Scott, that we live in California, and, more specifically, NORTHERN California. Statewide. we have an 8 % unemployment rate, but its worse north of the Grapevine. Its possible that things just suck here, and are OK elsewhere.
 
 
Dec 1, 2008
In a moment of spectacular boredom, I asked my mom if she wanted to go to the Galleria (in Dallas) on Friday. In previous years, it was sheer madness from the moment you get within 2 !$%*! of the freeway exit, with cops everywhere directing traffic. This year, I breezed right in. There was traffic, but no more than a typical Saturday. In the mall, it didn't feel at all like Christmas season. Tons of stuff on clearance racks at all the major stores, no kitchy tables of overpriced "cute" Christmas gifts, etc., It was funny to see all the sales help hanging out boredly chatting at the registers, where ropes had been set up to control the flow of customers, but they were empty.

On Saturday, I had to go back to pick up a pair of slacks, and it was a little busier, but still not by much. It was all very remarkable to me. Even the line to see Santa wasn't long.
 
 
Dec 1, 2008
"Black Friday" makes me think of "Black Sunday" and the other "black" days when something horrible happened. So I don't know whether stores had anyone in them or not; I stayed home.
 
 
Dec 1, 2008
The market manipulators are known as hedge funds.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 1, 2008
I wnet out forr shopping on Friday and gto stomped over repeatedlyby the crowd of mad shppers and endde up at the hospital. I dont see the humour in your commnet today, Scott.

(I apologze for the typos, it's hrd to type with both hands casted))
 
 
 
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