Monday, 6 July 2009

Yin, yang, and statistics

Some interesting stats from data specialist Abacus as to how cataloguers view their business going forward. Of the 48 members of the Abacus Alliance who responded to a survey in May and June, 75 percent felt that their economic prospects for the current season were the same or better than they had been a year ago. What's more, 48 percent said they were more optimistic about the next three months' trading than they had been, while only 8 percent were less optimistic.

So far, so good, right?

But when asked if the UK home shopping sector had experienced the worst of the recession, 53 percent said that they felt the worst was yet to come.

This could mean several things. One, that respondents think it will take more than three months to hit the economic nadir--they're cautiously optimistic about the next three months, but after that, watch out. Personally, I think this interpretation is suspect.

Two, that respondents think their own businesses are better positioned than most others to survive the impending doom. In other words, yes, the economy has yet to hit rock bottom, but we'll still manage to do okay. This seems more likely.

Three, that the wording of a survey question can make a huge difference to the response. When respondents were asked if they were "less or more optimistic about their company's business prospects" over the next three months, what were they meant to compare against? Less or more optimistic than they'd been a year ago? Six months ago? Less or more optimistic than the media? Than their doom-and-gloom in-laws?

Four, that it is possible to be optimistic and pessimistic simultaneously. Or to put it another way, ther's nowt as queer as folk.--SC

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