Ads Beckon Snowbound Shoppers to Sales in Closed Stores

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SAN FRANCISCO ( -- Retailers struggling with a flagging economy, terrorist threats and the lurking war with Iraq now find themselves buried
Photo: AP
The blizzard that shut down the Northeast for two days caused nightmares for President's Day sale ad campaigns.
under piles of inventory left on shelves as a result of this weekend's snowstorm.

The historic storm ripped across the whole northeastern quadrant of the country, shutting down cities and highway systems under as much as 30 inches of snow on President's Day. Even as vast numbers of consumers were unable to move from their homes, millions of dollars in special TV, radio and newspaper advertising campaigns beckoned them to one-day holiday sales at stores and malls that were closed by the storm.

"It's a major setback for all retailers," said Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Trend Report.

Stores closed, but ads run
He said most malls and free-standing stores were closed, while millions of dollars urging consumers to come out for special President's Day bargains continued to run on TV and radio channels, to say nothing about newspapers that went undelivered

"It's pretty much money that's gone 'poof,' " Mr. Barnard said.

He expects the storm to cast a major pall over February retail sales, though "to what extent, Lord only knows," he said. "What is a poor apparel or department store going to do?"

The only stores that may have rung up a few extra sales were supermarkets and other outlets for last-minute supplies such as milk and butter or batteries and duct tape, Mr. Barnard said.

Although stores will be rescheduling sales to get rid of inventory, the impact of those sales will not be the same as those scheduled for President's Day, when many people were of work.

'Opportunity is gone'
"The opportunity is gone," Mr. Barnard said. "They'll make up for it a little here and there."

Tom Holliday, president of the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, a division of the National Retail Association, called the storm "a cause for all sorts of concern," adding that inventory was backing up. He expects retailers, who regularly offer customers rain checks when they run out of stock on items, now will need to come up with a "snow-check" on a massive level.

"They'll try to make up the volume they lost," Mr. Holliday said.

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