Cold Snap: While You Gripe, Retailers Rejoice

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Uniqlo is discounting cold-weather clothing.
Uniqlo is discounting cold-weather clothing. Credit: Uniqlo

After a holiday season where spending was even more robust than expected for retailers, more dollars are on the way as consumers scoop up cold weather gear and apparel.

For the week ending Dec. 30, temperatures averaged 19 degrees colder than last year for 79 percent of the U.S., according to the Weather Co., a forecasting business owned by IBM. Much of the cold is centered in the Northeast, where there are single-digit temps. The winter weather follows a November that was already frostier than in 2016.

"We've had successive mild winters but now we've got the cold weather in spades," says Paul Walsh, a meteorologist and director of weather strategy at IBM Global Business Services.

The cold is fueling consumer demand for apparel including boots, thermals, hats, gloves and scarves and equipment like heaters. Last week, demand for thermal underwear was up 48 percent in the Northeast, and 38 percent for the U.S. overall compared with last year, according to Planalytics, which provides weather analytics to retailers. That percentage is expected to increase to 61 percent in the Northeast and 34 percent for the U.S. this week, the firm says. Demand for space heaters is also expected to be up 155 percent this week in the Northeast, and up 76 percent for the U.S., Planalytics says.

Retailers are taking advantage with promotions and merchandise. On Tuesday, Japanese brand Uniqlo sent out an email about protection from inclement weather, and is currently offering reduced prices on its Heattech layering apparel. While Lowe's has not adjusted its promotions because of the weather, the company is using its weather-monitoring facility to work with distribution centers and reposition inventory such as portable heaters, firewood, and rock salt to stores that need it most, a spokeswoman says.

Target has increased by 25 percent the number of stores carrying cold-weather gear through the end of February as a response to customer feedback, a spokeswoman says. Such stores had previously only sold the merchandise for a shorter length of time.

The renewed burst in spending comes after a holiday season that appears to have surpassed forecasts. For the two-month holiday period, retail sales grew 5.7 percent over last year to $671 billion, the best year-over-year growth since 2005, according to Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail research and consulting firm.

Experts expect the buying to continue as consumers cash in gift cards from the holidays. Stores in cities like New York, Chicago and Minneapolis should also sell a lot of resort wear as shoppers begin booking vacations to warmer climates, notes Walsh.

Social media has opened the door for more weather-focused awareness. Checking the temperature is now possible with the touch of a smartphone button. Late last year, Instagram added the option to post temperature stickers to Stories, for example. "The influence of weather on consumer behavior is continuing to increase," says Walsh. "Every third person is a meteorologist talking about the weather on Twitter and Facebook."

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