The King Report (courtesy the Big Picture) explains the conundrum: a new sampling technique makes year-to-year comparisons "futile", plus the report did not account for price changes aka discounts. After the type of severe downturn as last year, retailers go out of business, meaning the sample for the survey has to be changed. The Nov increase of 1.9% YoY is within the sampling error. The big news, however, is that the results did not account for discounts. The sales tax data may be giving us a better picture of retail this year than the surveys. An it has been down so far.
If the holiday sales this year are late as well as discount-driven, we might see a better sales tax report in Dec as shoppers wait wait wait for their sale price, then buy as the season ends; but overall this assessment puts a real damper on the Santa Rally.
UPDATE: story to hit tomorrow is Falling Rates Starting to Hit Electronics Retailers. BBY reported Nov sales were up, especially due to netbooks and smaller HDTVs, but warned that the next few months could disappoint due to severe discounting and buyers trading down to less expensive items. The CEA forecasts revenues to fall 6% in Q4 despite a unit increase of 6% - a huge swing because "deflationary pressure has accelerated." They cannot make it up in volume ... Santa (Rally) may stay home for Xmas.