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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Confusion from the NRF

I am reading "200% of Nothing" by A. K. Dewdney (Amazon page). Dewdney rails about innumeracy in the United States among both the public and the media. In one case he decries the use of extra digits to the right of the decimal point when they aren't really helpful.

Reading this report by the National Retail Foundation made me think of Dewdney:
Consumers are still showing their tendency to be notorious procrastinators when it comes to holiday shopping, according to NRF's 2006 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch. Though an impressive 23 million consumers (10.8%) have completely finished their holiday shopping, more than 33 million shoppers (15.4%) admit they haven't even started. Thusfar, the average person has completed 53.1 percent of his or her shopping, compared to 54.6 percent at this time last year.
What does it mean to have 53.1 versus 54.6 percent of shopping done. What possible interpretation can we put on .1 or .6 percent (that's .001 and .006) of total shopping?

If we round down the 53.1 to 53 and round down the 54.6 to 54 (because I don't know why I would round up in this case), we have a much less impressive difference across the two years and the NRF doesn't look so sophisticated.

Perhaps .001 shopping is a scratch-off lottery ticket for Uncle Sammy? This, however, would imply that there were 999 more gifts to buy. No wonder people are in debt up to their eyeballs!

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