Measuring the economy by looking at midnight Walmart shoppers

There are all sorts of figures and statistics that are used to measure how the economy is doing. This NPR story introduces a new metric: looking at midnight sales at Walmart on the first day of the month.

Wal-Mart noticed that sales were spiking on the first of every month. In a recent conference call with investment analysts, Wal-Mart executive Bill Simon said these midnight shoppers provide a snapshot of the American economy today.

“And if you really think about it,” Simon said, “the only reason somebody gets out and buys baby formula is they need it and they’ve been waiting for it. Otherwise, we’re open 24 hours, come at 5 a.m., come at 7 a.m., come at 10 a.m. But if you’re there at midnight you’re there for a reason.”

And so Wal-Mart has changed its stocking pattern. It brings out larger packs of items in the beginning of the month, and smaller sizes toward the end. It makes sure shelves have plenty of diapers and formula.

This is a creative data source – but we would need more information before making broad conclusions about the American economy. Do other stores experience similar spikes? How big of a spike is this? What Walmart locations have seen the biggest jumps?

It strikes me that Walmart probably possesses a treasure trove of data that would be very interesting to look at.

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