The Numbers Guy deconstructs the wholesalers.

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The Numbers Guy deconstructs the wholesalers.

Postby Bob Ross » Mon Aug 21, 2006 2:08 pm

I've praised Carl Bialik and his Numbers Guy column in the Wall Street Journel in the past. In his recent column he took on the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers's press release on teens buying booze on the Internet. http://www.wswa.org/public/media/tru-re ... earch.html

Extracts:

Are millions of kids really buying booze online? To arrive at that jarring headline, the group used some questionable logic to pump up results from a survey that was already tilted in favor of finding a large number of online buyers.

For starters, consider the source. The trade group that commissioned the survey has long fought efforts to expand online sales of alcohol; its members are local distributors who compete with online liquor sellers. Some of the news coverage pointed out that conflict of interest, though reports didn't delve more deeply into how the numbers were computed.

The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America hired Teenage Research Unlimited, a Northbrook, Ill., research company, to design the study. Teenage Research, in turn, hired San Diego polling firm Luth Research to put the questions to 1,001 people between the ages of 14 and 20 in an online survey. Luth gets people to participate in its surveys in part by advertising them online and offering small cash awards -- typically less than $5 for short surveys.

People who agree to participate in online surveys are, by definition, Internet users, something that not all teens are. (Also, people who actually take the time to complete such surveys may be more likely to be active, or heavy, Internet users.) It's safe to say that kids who use the Internet regularly are more likely to shop online than those who don't. Teenage Research Unlimited told me it weighted the survey results to adjust for age, sex, ethnicity and geography of respondents, but had no way to adjust for degree of Internet usage.

Regardless, the survey found that, after weighting, just 2.1% of the 1,001 respondents bought alcohol online -- compared with 56% who had consumed alcohol. Making the questionable assumption that their sample was representative of all Americans aged 14 to 20 with access to the Internet -- and not just those with the time and inclination to participate in online surveys -- the researchers concluded that 551,000 were buying alcohol online.

But that falls far short of the reported "millions of kids." To justify that headline, the wholesalers' group focused on another part of the survey that asked respondents if they knew a teen who had purchased alcohol online. Some 12% said they did. Of course, it's ridiculous to extrapolate from a stat like that -- one buyer could be known by many people, and it's impossible to measure overlap. Consider a high school of 1,000 students, with 20 who have bought booze online and 100 who know about the purchases. If 100 of the school's students are surveyed at random, you'd expect to find two who have bought and 10 who know someone who has -- but that still represents only two buyers, not 10. (Not to mention the fact that thinking you know someone who has ordered beer online is quite different from ordering a six pack yourself.)

***

I asked Michael Wood, a vice president at Teenage Research who worked on the survey, whether one could say, as the liquor trade group did, that millions of teenagers had bought alcohol online. "You can't," he replied, adding, "This is their press release."

* * *

A link to the entire column appears at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB115574573662137365.html

I'm pretty sure this is a subscriber's only link.

Regards, Bob
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Re: The Numbers Guy deconstructs the wholesalers.

Postby Hoke » Mon Aug 21, 2006 2:22 pm

My current favorite in the category of propagating dubious "information" in sound bites is a billboard (the original 'sound bite' in visual form) near my house.

It's a party scene and the only words on the board are "The earlier he starts drinking, the more likely he is to have a drinking problem."

I think that is reprehensible on so many levels.
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Re: The Numbers Guy deconstructs the wholesalers.

Postby Bob Ross » Mon Aug 21, 2006 2:36 pm

Just for interest, Hoke, how old are the party goers?
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Numbers???

Postby TomHill » Mon Aug 21, 2006 2:40 pm

"Internet users, something that not all teens are...".
Well, certainly, Bob, that statement is absolutely true. But my observation is that there is probably a greater fraction of the teenage population that are InterNet users than any other population segment.
Nonetheless, his comments are pretty dead on. An unusual amount of original thought for the fourth estate.
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Re: The Numbers Guy deconstructs the wholesalers.

Postby Hoke » Mon Aug 21, 2006 2:49 pm

Bob Ross wrote:Just for interest, Hoke, how old are the party goers?


Primarily adults, Bob. It's not like it's a wild party going on, or a kegger. Looks like a holiday get-together family kind of thing.

This type of almost subliminal 'flash card' type of billboard is infuriating. No substantiation, no information, just blatant scare tactics, simply an insinuation that if a young person has any form of beverage alcohol that person will be irretrievably marred for life.

Shades of Reefer Madness. :)
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Re: The Numbers Guy deconstructs the wholesalers.

Postby Ian Sutton » Mon Aug 21, 2006 3:07 pm

Just corrected your typo
Hoke wrote:just blatant scare tactics, simply an insinuation that if a young person has any form of beverage alcohol that person will be irretrievably married for life.

:wink:
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Re: The Numbers Guy deconstructs the wholesalers.

Postby Hoke » Mon Aug 21, 2006 3:34 pm

Ian Sutton wrote:Just corrected your typo
Hoke wrote:just blatant scare tactics, simply an insinuation that if a young person has any form of beverage alcohol that person will be irretrievably married for life.

:wink:


And what's your point, Ian? :wink:
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Re: The Numbers Guy deconstructs the wholesalers.

Postby Bob Ross » Mon Aug 21, 2006 4:01 pm

Thanks, Hoke. Could you let me know who sponsored the billboard.

I'm assuming this ad is supported by the study last spring that found a strong correlation between the age people start drinking and alcohol abusers.

The Numbers Guy likes to analyze studies of this type -- he asks subscribers to send him suggestions. There was a flurry of news paper and TV reports on the study that I can send him together with the study itself.

But if I could show some group was using the study in this sort of campaign, it might pique his interest even more.

Thanks, Bob
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Re: Numbers???

Postby Bob Ross » Mon Aug 21, 2006 4:04 pm

I like the way he follows up, Tom -- that last quote speaks volumes.

And of course he took his own whack at the Fourth Estate -- he points out that some reports (and by implication not all) mentioned who sponsored the study, but did no analysis of the results.

Your point is a good one though -- it jarred me a bit. Let's see if he defends it next week -- readers avidly write in and critique his critiques.
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Re: The Numbers Guy deconstructs the wholesalers.

Postby wnissen » Mon Aug 21, 2006 5:11 pm

Hoke wrote:
Bob Ross wrote:Just for interest, Hoke, how old are the party goers?


Primarily adults, Bob. It's not like it's a wild party going on, or a kegger. Looks like a holiday get-together family kind of thing.

This type of almost subliminal 'flash card' type of billboard is infuriating. No substantiation, no information, just blatant scare tactics, simply an insinuation that if a young person has any form of beverage alcohol that person will be irretrievably marred for life.

Shades of Reefer Madness. :)

I saw a billboard even worse than that. It was in Oakland, and said "Be concerned about child obesity." Well, what, pray tell, are we supposed to do with our concern. All the research shows that parents who are on diets raise kids who are on diets. The concern of the parents is most likely to hurt, not help childhood obesity.

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Re: The Numbers Guy deconstructs the wholesalers.

Postby Glenn Mackles » Mon Aug 21, 2006 5:44 pm

I guess I'm a bit confused. When I have bought wine over the internet, the shipping company (FedEX and UPS) have required me to show a picture ID proving both that I was the person to whom the package was sent and that I was over 21 before they would turn the package over to me. (Not that there is much doubt of that if you had seen me in person). Perhaps other shipping companies aren't so rigorous.

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Re: The Numbers Guy deconstructs the wholesalers.

Postby Robin Garr » Mon Aug 21, 2006 5:59 pm

Glenn Mackles wrote:Perhaps other shipping companies aren't so rigorous.


I probably shouldn't say this on a public forum, but I find that the delivery folks rarely bother with the signature here. On the other hand, we do a fair amount of business with all the package-express companies, and the delivery people know us and know what business they're in, so it's not like they're leaving a case of Petrus on the front porch of Ward and June Cleaver's split-level in tract mansion territory.
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Re: The Numbers Guy deconstructs the wholesalers.

Postby Hoke » Mon Aug 21, 2006 6:30 pm

so it's not like they're leaving a case of Petrus on the front porch of Ward and June Cleaver's split-level in tract mansion territory.


Petrus. Yeah, you wish.

And I'm having just a little problem with Mary 'June Cleaver' Garr vacuuming the house in her sheath dress, pearl necklace and high heels. :)
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Re: The Numbers Guy deconstructs the wholesalers.

Postby Robin Garr » Mon Aug 21, 2006 6:35 pm

Hoke wrote:Petrus. Yeah, you wish.

And I'm having just a little problem with Mary 'June Cleaver' Garr vacuuming the house in her sheath dress, pearl necklace and high heels. :)


Which part of "It's <b><i>NOT</i></b> like ..." did I fail to pronounce? :twisted:
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Re: The Numbers Guy deconstructs the wholesalers.

Postby James Roscoe » Mon Aug 21, 2006 6:42 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
Hoke wrote:Petrus. Yeah, you wish.

And I'm having just a little problem with Mary 'June Cleaver' Garr vacuuming the house in her sheath dress, pearl necklace and high heels. :)


Which part of "It's <b><i>NOT</i></b> like ..." did I fail to pronounce? :twisted:


It's gonna be a HOT time at the Garr house tonight! Bar the door Katie, Robin has taken his medicine! Grrrrrrr!
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Re: The Numbers Guy deconstructs the wholesalers.

Postby Remo Perriello » Wed Aug 23, 2006 2:41 am

Robin Garr wrote:
Glenn Mackles wrote:Perhaps other shipping companies aren't so rigorous.


I probably shouldn't say this on a public forum, but I find that the delivery folks rarely bother with the signature here.


HA! Another quote within a quote....

When I first started sending wine shipments online with UPS I noticed a higher degree of lost shipments and broken packages. I was like WTF... I thought (ASSUME, in this case ASSMEME) by signing a "liquor" contract with UPS that it was a given , adult signature would be taken upon drop off. WRONG...

Upon further review, when doing further shipments I noticed a check box, (and for an additional fee, gee, thanks!) Adult Signature Required!!!
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Re: The Numbers Guy deconstructs the wholesalers.

Postby Bob Ross » Wed Aug 23, 2006 2:46 am

Robin, do you have one of those forms on file with each shipping company that says signatures are not required?

We do, and it generally works fine. [Except for FedEx, the ... let me be kind .... the vigilanties -- 12 miles there and 12 miles home for me to pick up any package they merely suspect could be wine. Olive oil, eggs from range free chickens, micro-organsims for our septic system, preying mantis egg sacs, butterfly cocoons -- come on, guys, give me a break!]

Although, we are awfully good friends with each of the delivery folks, especially UPS, which are really the very best in our area.

Regards, Bob
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As usually happens, WSJ readers chime in on deconstructing.

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Aug 25, 2006 2:04 am

And made some fantastic points:

Several readers responded to my column last week about a survey on teenagers buying alcohol online. Here are edited excerpts from letters:

Beyond your points raised, there's one other glaring questionable part of the data... Some 2.1% said they had bought booze. Self-reported data from adults are suspect; they're even more suspect for teenagers.

--Fred Van Bennekom

The vast majority of teenagers are online. Pew puts it at 87% [in a 2005 survey]. Which makes the whole "online vs. offline bias" question pretty moot in that age group (although not for the older women in the diamond vs. TV survey you reference). So I think you should focus less on that than on the totally biased intentions of the sponsors and the heinous use of the "do you know a friend who uses XYZ" question in the press release. There should be some kind of violent sanction placed on those who lie with data, as it gives those of us trying to do the right thing an impossible task.

--Matthew Holt

Not only do the numbers seem off, they also don't reflect the fact that delivery companies typically require signature by an adult for booze ordered online. To wit: I ordered a bottle of champagne for my sister's anniversary. She didn't receive it until two weeks later because FedEx wouldn't let her 18-year old daughter sign for it. Not everyone ships via FedEx. But I somehow expect that this check creates more of a barrier to youths ordering online than the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America wants to recognize.

--Chris Sandlund

As a driver for UPS, I can say that the number of children who order alcohol online and the number who actually receive it are drastically different. I deliver alcohol on nearly a daily basis; I'm not allowed to release the package to anybody under 21, and I need to check photo ID every single time. There have been several cases where the beverage in question is returned to the shipper, simply because no adult is around for three days straight. ... Point is, a lot of the alcohol ordered by minors never makes it to the intended destination.

--Bill Lee

I would have liked to see a comparable statistic provided: How many of the survey respondents have, or know someone who has, purchased alcohol from a retail outlet using a fake ID or a friend or older sibling? I predict that the numbers would be much higher than the number who obtained alcohol online. So would the wholesalers recommend that we curtail liquor sales at retail outlets?

--Steve McDuffie

If two out of 1,000 have bought alcohol online yet 560 have consumed it, seems to me kids are getting most of the alcohol via means other than the Internet. Perhaps the customers of the wholesalers ought to look into that.

--Michael Maffei
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Well done!

Postby Steve Kirsch » Fri Aug 25, 2006 8:56 am

Ian Sutton wrote:Just corrected your typo
Hoke wrote:just blatant scare tactics, simply an insinuation that if a young person has any form of beverage alcohol that person will be irretrievably married for life.

:wink:

Good one!
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Re: As usually happens, WSJ readers chime in on deconstructing.

Postby Dale Williams » Fri Aug 25, 2006 12:16 pm

I like Mr. Maffei's point.
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Re: As usually happens, WSJ readers chime in on deconstructing.

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Aug 25, 2006 12:22 pm

I agree, Dale. Right on the money.
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Re: The Numbers Guy deconstructs the wholesalers.

Postby Dan Donahue » Fri Aug 25, 2006 1:08 pm

I just hope that the backlash from this kind of overt nonsense from the Wholesaler's lobby leads to a more reasoned political response. Oh wait, I forgot about all the political contributions. Rational thought has nothing to do with it, unfortunately.
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