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Journalists love numbers - especially big numbers. The fact that they are sometimes meaningless big numbers doesn't matter in the slightest. Kingfisher's disclosure that B&Q stores sold 2,561 miles of garden hose in the first quarter of the year is exactly the kind of number that journalists love: it's big, and it's meaningless. For a start, unless we know how many miles of hose B&Q sold in the same quarter last year, that figure of 2,561 miles tells us nothing at all. If last year's figure was 2,000 miles, then 2,561 an impressive number. If last year was 3,000 miles then it's a rather less impressive number. Wth nothing against which to compare it, 2,561 is neither impressive not unimpressive; it's just a number.

But journalists love numbers, and duly treated the 2,561 miles as a significant indicator of the state of the diy market. Significant? Really? Let's see...

2,561 miles of hosepipe sold in 13 weeks is 197 miles a week. But that's across a chain of 332 stores, so it's 0.5934 miles (about 950 metres) of hosepipe sold per store per week. Hosepipe is generally sold in lengths of 15m, 30m or 50m - B&Q's website sells all three lengths - so let's assume that the average sale is a 30m length. 950 divided by 30 is just under 32 packs of hose per week, or about four and a half packs per day.

But if Kingfisher's trading statement had revealed that on average, each B&Q store sold four and a half packs of garden hose a day during the first quarter, would that number have got the same column inches as the "2,561 miles" did? Probably not.
View User Profile for Colin Petty Industry consultant Colin Petty considers developments in the DIY market.

Posted by Colin Petty | 7 June 2011 | 11:01 | More from: Talking Point


Published prior to March 2014
By Mike
Totally agree that journalism is going insane over pointless numbers.
There are stats on the likes of crime and sales which are being horrendously misreported, and I hope more media moguls soon see that the public don't need to be spoon fed exciting numbers to maintain our attention.
The hose example is an irritating (B&Q PR Department created) yet harmless one, however jumping on a single isolated stat in some regards (like when the GDP figures were released for the final quarter of 2010) can have serious knock-on's down the path in terms of peoples perceptions/outlooks and therefore their future decision making.
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