The feast of commerce is on. From Black Friday to Cyber Monday, Americans are about to go on an annual spending spree—one that comprises some 140 million consumers and underpins an industry supporting roughly one in four U.S. jobs. Just how many products will they purchase? That’s the big question for manufacturers, retailers, investors, and anyone who cares about the economy at-large.
The forecasting and measuring of one of the busiest shopping weeks of the year happens across a wide spectrum, from payment processors and software companies to trade groups and big Wall Street banks. Retailers will use the data to make inventory and staffing decisions, investors will clamor for the numbers to handicap the shares of various companies, and economists will tune in to the reports to sample consumer sentiment. Think of it as a traditional Thanksgiving meal: There’s the meat, the sides, and then the sliver of pie, for those who still have some appetite left.