By  on July 7, 2010

Consumers throughout the Eastern U.S. sought relief from record-breaking temperatures Tuesday any way they could — including going shopping.

As the thermometer topped 100 degrees in Manhattan and elsewhere, retail executives said traffic to their air-conditioned stores and malls was heavier than normal. Even the bedbug-plagued Hollister store in SoHo, which reopened Saturday, saw a large influx of consumers.

The searing heat followed the warmest July 4th weekend since 2007 and the third-warmest June in 50 years. And the heat wave was forecast to continue through at least Friday, when temperatures are expected to dip to the more-normal mid-80s.

Over the weekend, businesses in the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. experienced double-digit increases of seasonal purchases compared to the coldest 2009 period in a decade, according to Planalytics, which analyzes and publishes the weather’s impact on retail. While consumers on the West Coast were still waiting for summer to start and holding off on seasonal purchases, other shoppers were able to think about fall wardrobes and even boots — despite the heat.

Retailers said that the gain in traffic and sales will likely last as long as the heat wave — a much-needed boost as consumers’ reluctance to spend increases along with unemployment and fears of a second recession. Cold water is likely to be splashed on retailers’ recent good mood on Thursday when stores report comparable-store sales that, while expected to show growth, also will stir concerns over margins and rising inventories going into the key back-to-school season.

“We had high double-digit increases,” said Susan Davidson, president and chief executive officer of Scoop. “East Hampton was off the charts. They’re buying fall early, driven by designers like Azzedine Alaïa, Missoni, Michael Kors, Phillip Lim and Marc Jacobs. We’re selling Chloé shoes and boots. Also, swimwear, shorts and little dresses.” She said business was “off to a good start” on Tuesday.

Mike McAvinue, general manager of the Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey, attributed a 10 percent to 15 percent bump in weekend traffic to the heat. And the uptick continued on Tuesday. “It’s very busy,” he said. “Not as strong as [Sunday and Monday] but certainly stronger than our average. It’s maybe 4 percent or 5 percent ahead. It’s definitely the heat.”

At The Shops at Columbus Circle, David Froelke, senior vice president of retail and general manager of Related Urban Management Co., said Solstice was busy all weekend, while “Esprit was doing very well with summerwear. J. Crew did very well with summerwear and had some sales [going] on. Eileen Fisher reported a good weekend.” Froelke said Tuesday trend was “very strong. Traffic appears heavier compared to a normal summer Tuesday. I would anticipate this would continue through the duration of the heat wave.”

“We had an extremely outrageous day on July 5th,” said a spokeswoman for Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J. The mall is closed on Sundays due to Bergen County’s Blue Laws. “We were mobbed.” The center’s anchors and specialty retailers offered promotions and sales for the holiday weekend, with the top-selling items, by consensus: swimwear and ladies’ shoes.

Traffic over the holiday weekend was “slightly above normal” at Stamford Town Center in Stamford, Conn., said Mike McAndrews, general manager. “We experienced an influx of people looking for a place to cool off,” he said.

At the Americana Manhasset in Manhasset, N.Y., only a number of stores were open on July 4th. “While that day was relatively quiet, the rest of the weekend resulted in some strong sales,” said a spokeswoman. “Some of that was due to customers shopping for summer sale merchandise, but some was also due to customers excited about new fall merchandise.”

Caryn Hirshleifer, who oversees legal, marketing, planning and public relations at Hirshleifers at Americana Manhasset, said Friday’s sales were particularly strong, but throughout the weekend more than 85 percent of sales were done at full price. “In terms of pre-fall merchandise, the new Chanel accessories were very popular,” she said. “Other strong brands included Balenciaga, Brunello Cucinelli, Loree Rodkin, Proenza Schouler, Alexander McQueen and Givenchy. Fall shoes sold well, including Miu Miu, Christian Louboutin and Sergio Rossi. We can tell that it’s going to be a very strong boot season.”

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