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C. Alan Joyce

Exploring Trends in Holiday Retail Sales

December 8, 2010 —
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A little over two months ago, we announced the addition of U.S. retail sales data to Wolfram|Alpha. With the holiday season upon us—and a great deal of attention focused on how current economic conditions will affect consumer spending this year—we thought it might be good to remind users of this functionality.

Retail sales data from the U.S. Department of Commerce always lags a few months behind the present, so the latest available data is for September 2010 (Wolfram|Alpha automatically picks up new data each month when it is released, usually around the 15th). But looking at sales categories that are highly seasonal, like jewelry stores, you can still observe some clear trends in the sales “spike” that occurs each December, with holiday-season sales way down in 2008, but recovering slightly last year:
Monthly U.S. retail sales for jewelry stores

Or choose “last 2 years” from the drop-down menu in the History pod to zoom in on the action a bit more and see how more recent trends match up against previous years:

Monthly U.S. retail sales for jewelry stores

You can also ask Wolfram|Alpha to analyze retail sales in a given category over any arbitrary date range for which data exists. Try asking about “U.S. clothing retail sales September 2005-September 2010” and you’ll get a result with the mean, maximum, and minimum value of retail sales over that time period—plus a zoomed-in view of retail sales in every category over those dates:

Monthly U.S. retail sales for jewelry stores

You can also grab this simple widget, which makes it easier to call up data on selected (highly seasonal) retail sales categories over any date range you specify—or feel free to modify it, and create your own retail sales analysis tool. Let us know what you come up with, and keep an eye on this data over the coming months as this year’s holiday shopping story unfolds.

1 Comment

Dear Mr. Joyce,

I am curious to add a few simple “best-fit” linear/quadratic/exponential models to your Country Statistics over Time Mathematica Demonstration source code notebook for use in a math course that I am currently taking.


Jason Dietrich
Illini Central High School
Math Instructor

Posted by jason dietrich December 14, 2010 at 10:00 pm