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Retailers Brace For Big Freeze As Shopping Season Slips Away

Holiday shoppers can add bad weather to the list of things crimping their holiday shopping plans.

A once in a generation weather event is expected to bring extreme cold, dangerous amounts of snow and blizzard conditions, bearing down on large swaths of the U.S. in the final shopping days before Christmas.

That means it will be more difficult for shoppers to grab those last-minute items before the holiday, and it could impact retailers' ability to stay open.

National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Bardou, based in the NWS’ Chicago office said conditions in the area this week will “rapidly deteriorate” and at its worst will bring snow, pounding winds, a frigid wind chill that could hit minus 30 degrees and brutal cold.

“It’s really the combination of the rapid fall in temperature, the rapid onset of the winds and the magnitude of the winds, that make this event stand out,” Bardou said. “That, combined with the falling snow … that's going to cause, potentially, a lot of traffic, travel difficulties and danger.”

The anticipated cold winter weather could act either as a deterrent or as a booster to sales, based on severity and location, according to Evan Gold, Planlytics executive vice president of global partnership and alliances. 

“Weather is the most local impact in terms of what we do on a day-in and day-out basis and therefore, it impacts retailers and a lot of national retailers that have the ability to move product to certain places at certain time periods,” Planalytics Executive Vice President of Global Partnerships and Alliances Evan Gold told the National Retail Federation

Gold told the NRF cold-weather items like outerwear or hot food and drinks “are up single-digit percentages on a year-over-year base.” Gold predicted that so-called need-based shopping would receive a boost from cold weather.

But with forecasts calling for inclement weather so severe it will render most travel — by plane or by road — unsafe, it’s unclear whether those boosts will materialize. 

Large retailers would be less impacted by a weather-related shopper stoppage, having already collected the vast majority of their holiday-season bounty for the year; small retailers could feel the freeze more.

In Central Indiana, for example, small-business owners lamented what the weather would mean for their final selling days of the year, according to CBS4 in Indianapolis, although for some, those final days could just come a little earlier this year.

“Those gift-givers who only come into my store once a year on Christmas Eve or on the 23rd, maybe they can be a 21st or 22nd shoppers this year,” local store owner Elizabeth Shikany told the station.

Retailers across the U.S. need all the help they can get this year. Inflation and high prices have pinched shoppers for months. Early shopping totals for the holiday season have been lackluster, dropping 0.6% in November, CNN reported, characterizing the drop as “sharp.” Though that may not seem like much, it’s the weakest performance in over a year. Retail watchers have anticipated that stores would offer big discounts in the days leading up to Christmas in an effort to boost spending, according to Seeking Alpha.

The National Retail Federation’s holiday sales prediction, issued in early November, took into account the weather, among other factors, and anticipated about $942.6B in sales, an increase of between 6% and 8 % over 2021’s holiday numbers. 

“Even a fluctuation of a few percentage points in sales is significant for any retailer during the highest volume months of the year,” an NRF report said.