The Prophet of Retail


When C. Britt Beemer forecasts holiday sales figures, everybody listens.



 

In 1985, C. Britt Beemer started analyzing the retail trends that surround the Christmas season—for fun.

“A bunch of research firms were talking about how could this guy in South Carolina know anything?” says Beemer, a 19-year Orlando resident and head of Charleston-based America’s Research Group, a consumer behavior research and strategic marketing firm. “So I made the decision to be the best of the best of Christmas. I love Christmas.”

Beemer, 57, decided he would share his predictions—drawn from telephone surveys of 1,000 consumers from across the country—with his retail clients. But they leaked the information to the media, and soon he was getting nearly a dozen calls a day from journalists reporting on business—or
Christmas.

“So I decided to give [my predictions] directly to the media,” Beemer says. They were happy to take them.

Nowadays, in the months, weeks and days leading up to Christmas, Beemer can be seen on dozens of TV news programs as a premier expert on holiday retail sales. In 2008, he received 48 calls from reporters on the day he released his forecast. Google him, and you’ll get roughly 16,000 results—nearly all related to his Christmas forecasts.

His motivation and accuracy lend Beemer credibility.

"I do this for my personal satisfaction on how close I can get, not because I work for some federation,” Beemer says.

He gets pretty close. He started releasing reports 18 year ago, and for the past 16 years, he says, the actual results have come within a half-percentage point of his forecast.

CNNMoney.com senior writer Parija Kavilanz, who covers the retail industry, says Beemer understands the pulse of consumers partly because he tracks spending and buying habits over the course of the year, not just around the holidays.

So how did Beemer’s forecast turn out? When compared with two major indexes, he came pretty close. On December 17, he predicted a 2.8 percent decline in retail sales—the first time he’s ever forecast a decline. On January 8, research firm Retail Metrics reported a 2.9 percent decline in holiday retail sales. Additionally, the International Council of shopping Centers reported a 2.2 percent decline of same-store holiday sales in the chain stores it follows.

In other words, it was a dismal holiday season for retailers. Beemer says they should have read his latest book, The Customer Rules, co-authored with Robert Shook. In it Beemer draws insights on creating customer loyalty from the strategies of 14 companies he calls the best in America, including Johnson & Johnson, Edward Jones and Caesar’s Entertainment.

And he knows how to take his own advice.

“Business has been tough for the last year and a half,” he says. “I’m going to read my own book for my own sake.”

 

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