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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 11/18/2010

Good shopping weather? Retailers sure hope so.

By Dan Stillman

Black Friday weekend trending cool for eastern U.S.

* Tranquil weather: Full Forecast | Ellen DeGeneres mocks TV weather *


A snow pile in the parking lot of a Fairfax, Va., Home Depot last winter. By CWG photographer Kevin Ambrose.

As the 2010 holiday shopping season kicks into high gear the Friday after Thanksgiving, many retailers are hoping they won't see a repeat of a lasting image from last year's holiday season -- parking lots covered with as much as (or more than) two feet of snow, instead of teeming with cars and hungry holiday shoppers.

That was the scene across much of the East Coast and Midwest on "Super Saturday" 2009. For many stores, Super Saturday -- the last Saturday before Christmas -- is the Super Bowl of shopping days. One of the busiest shopping days of the year, it often nets on the order of $15 billion in sales nationwide as last-minute shoppers take advantage of discounts and extended hours.

It's too early to accurately predict the weather for any one of the 29 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. And the skill of weather forecasts beyond a week or so isn't always stellar. Still, prospects for the overall shopping season are looking up, according to two companies that are in the business of predicting the weather's influence on, well, business.

Planalytics, the source of the $15 billion Super Saturday statistic, and which provides companies with what it calls "Business Weather Intelligence," recently released its annual holiday shopping outlook. It predicts that weather will drive a 2 percent increase in both retail and restaurant traffic this holiday shopping season (November-December) as compared to the weather's impact during the same period in 2009.


Predicted change in weather driven demand for retail and restaurant traffic for November 2010, December 2010 and combined (as compared to the same period in 2009). Credit: Planalytics.

That increase would be in addition to any surge resulting from what Planalytics characterizes as an overall improving economy -- household income and consumer spending are up relative to last year, despite lower consumer confidence. Most estimates are for holiday sales to increase 2 to 3 percent over last year with spending, according to the National Retail Federation, approaching $450 billion.

This year's shopping season, however, may not get off to quite as good a start in the weather department as last year's, when Black Friday weekend (Nov. 27-30) was the warmest and driest for the country since 2006. The nice weather was likely a factor in the 13 percent increase (source: Planalytics) in foot traffic over Black Friday weekend 2008.

Looking at the latest weather model data, the early outlook for the upcoming Black Friday Weekend (Nov. 26-29) is for temperatures near to below average across much of the middle and eastern portion of the nation -- cool enough to encourage sales of seasonal items (e.g., coats, heaters, etc.) but, according to Planalytics, not necessarily cold enough to limit foot traffic -- and the potential for some precipitation along the East Coast.

Any negative impacts of inclement weather to close out November could be balanced or overcome in December if Planalytics' forecast of a warmer and generally less snowy December than last year, in part due to a moderate to strong La Nina, verifies. La Nina conditions are characterized by cooler-than-normal water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, which impacts weather patterns worldwide.

"Though retailers might not experience strong demand for seasonal items compared to December 2009, the fact that consumers will be able to make it to the store is what's most important in December," said Joseph DeRugeriis, senior marketing manager for Planalytics.

Weather Trends International, which provides year-ahead weather forecasts to businesses, sees a similar scenario taking shape: a Black Friday weekend cold snap followed by a generally warm and dry December.

"A warmer/drier December always fares better for brick-mortar retail," despite the potential for decreased interest in cold-weather seasonal items, said Bill Kirk, Weather Trends International CEO and co-founder.

As a point of comparison, December 2009 was the coldest since 2000, and featured the monster storm that brought record snow to the mid-Atlantic, including nearly two feet in parts of the Washington, D.C., area, as well as snow up the Northeast Corridor, which Planalytics says typically accounts for about one-third of U.S. Super Saturday sales. Not surprisingly, both sales and foot traffic dropped by 12-13% for Super Saturday 2009 compared to the year prior, according to ShopperTrak.

The Huffington Post reported that online sales for the same day were up nearly 25 percent. But as retailersforum.com noted at the time, "one must keep this in perspective. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), online sales only represent 5% of the total industry sales."

By Dan Stillman  | November 18, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  U.S. Weather  
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Next: Hurricane season in 2010 made history

Comments

Has anyone chosen where to camp out on Black Friday morning? have your super-specials mapped out? :)

Posted by: Camden-CapitalWeatherGang | November 18, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

After dealing with lack of parking at shopping centers due to large piles of snow and the increased crowds (because regular shopping days were eaten up by inclement weather), I have decided to do the majority of my Christmas shopping online this year. I am willing to pay extra for shipping (though I do try to capitalize on free shipping items when I can) just so I don't have to deal with the crowds, not to mention I'll have all my shopping done in the unlikely case that we get a snowstorm right before Christmas again.

Posted by: j_grace | November 18, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

j_grace - you sound completely reasonable to me.. I can echo a lot of your sentiment!

Posted by: Camden-CapitalWeatherGang | November 18, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Finished my Christmas shopping a couple of weeks ago.

Posted by: wiredog | November 18, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Dan, you seemingly missed the most important question, namely did either Planalytics or Weather Trends foresee the December 2009 cold and snow and thier effects on shopping.

I doubt it. As true with Accuweather, verifications of its forecasts never seem to be available. Not much different from getting proof that snake oil cures all ills.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | November 18, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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