According to many, including management, sales at JC Penney improved in the just reported quarter. They were down 12%.
Sales improved at Best Buy too, declining 0.4%.
Of course what they really mean is that the negative trend improved. Things are bad. Just not quite as much as last time.
But improvement in the sense of growing market share, being more relevant to consumers, having more money to pay the bills–you know that sort of trivial stuff–the cold splash of reality is that it’s still not happening.
So if you are on a plane hurtling toward the earth, you might take some comfort in learning that the dive is no longer so steep. More time to pray, more time to reflect on your life and more time for the pilot (hopefully!) to pull out before you smash into the ground.
If you are trying to lose weight you might be somewhat happier that this week you “only” gained two pounds, rather than last week’s five. But no matter what you tell yourself, you are still further away from your goal.
Or if your 401K was down 25% last year and you are only down 12% this year, you might feel just a bit less badly about your needing to work until you’re 80 (until you realize that it will take a 47% gain just to get back to even–which, coincidentally, is the same increase that Penney’s need to get back to the start of the Ron Johnson era).
Don’t get me wrong, obviously when a trend has been relentlessly negative, an improvement in that decline sure beats the alternative. And a less steep descent provides the promise of a potential ascent.
Just don’t confuse better with good.
And don’t forget as long as you are growing more slowly than your best competitor, you are still losing ground.
Your boat may not be drifting as badly, but you are still miles from the shore.