U.S. Retailers Hurt as Snowstorm Thwarts Shoppers

Monday, 27 Dec 2010 12:14 PM

 

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U.S. retailers expecting to ring up sales in the days after Christmas may have to intensify discounts after a snowstorm slammed the East Coast Sunday, disrupting one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Parts of New York and New Jersey got as much as 2 feet of snow over the past few days, keeping many shoppers at home. Spending may shift into January, said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group Inc., a research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y.

“It’s like throwing a party and nobody comes because the focus has gone from post-holiday shopping to post-holiday travel,” Cohen said. “Look for sales to be repeated by retailers. They’re going to be more aggressive. They’ve got to throw another party.”

The day after Christmas is one of the five busiest shopping days of the year, and it may take retailers two weeks to capture sales lost on that day, Cohen said. At the same time, shoppers may lose their enthusiasm as the holiday season wanes, he said.

Some shoppers soldiered on to get deals. Ten minutes before opening time at 10 a.m. Monday, an employee at Bloomingdale’s flagship Manhattan store let 30 or so early-bird shoppers into a heated vestibule so they could warm up.

"It’s Christmas, so that means we’re shopping," said Ed Hutlas, 68, an engineer from Dallas visiting the city for the holidays, who stood inside the vestibule with his son and granddaughter. Hutlas said his first purchase would be a new heavy winter coat for his granddaughter.

The National Retail Federation boosted its holiday retail sales forecast this month by 1 percentage point, to an increase of 3.3 percent.Consumer confidence rose in December to the highest level in six months as more Americans, whose purchases account for about 70 percent of the U.S. economy, put faith in improving job and income prospects.

The snow also battered Southern states not used to such storms. At 9:30 a.m. Sunday, only two cars had pulled into the parking lot of a Sears Holdings Corp. store in Greensboro, N.C., even though the retailer had advertised early-bird discounts of up to 60 percent on clothing and 30 percent on refrigerators and washing machines.

“My wife wasn’t happy when I decided to come out,” said Michael Scarlett, shopping at the Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based chain after 3 inches of snow had accumulated overnight. He planned to pick up an Android tablet computer he’d ordered online and return home.

At 10:30 a.m, the Apple store in Greensboro had 17 customers and 17 red-shirted employees, including four at the front window watching a yellow bulldozer push snow into a pile in the parking lot.

Up the East Coast, in Whitehall, Pa., shopper Camille Qualtere was surprised to find the Lehigh Valley Mall “deserted.”

“We thought, ‘Is the mall closed?’” said Qualtere, 54, who took her two daughters to return unwanted gifts and shop for discounted clothes at Macy’s before the storm started. “I didn’t hear about the snow because I was cooking all day yesterday. My daughter just told me about it.”

Consumers may temper their spending if the storm’s aftermath stalls shopping for several days and the frugality of New Year’s resolutions kicks in, said Michael Dart, the San Francisco-based head of private equity at the New York consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates.

“You’re moving into an environment where the consumer is going to be pulling back,” Dart said. “Retailers don’t want to lose too many of those shopping days. If it’s just today, it’s not a big deal. But the longer the weather remains bad, it becomes problematic for retailers.”

© Copyright 2014 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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