Storms Challenge Holiday Shopping

Retailers trying to lure shoppers faced the added burdens of snow, ice and rain.

Retailers trying to lure shoppers by offering huge discounts and promotions on the last weekend before Christmas faced the added burdens of snow, ice and rain.

This story first appeared in the December 22, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The stakes were particularly high in what has been a dismal season. The weekend before the holiday can account for about 11.5 percent of Christmas sales for some merchants, according to ShopperTrak. Merchants are trying to clear inventory and salvage what may be the worst Christmas sales levels in decades.

As the second snow storm since Friday hit the Northeast, Palisades Center in West Nyack, N.Y., which includes Target, Macy’s and J.C. Penney, opened on time at 8 a.m. Sunday, but an employee said the mall was “not busy like it would be” under normal weather conditions.

The Pacific Northwest also was socked by a ferocious storm.

In addition to rolling back prices, retailers have extended their hours in an effort to entice cash-strapped shoppers who are cutting back because of rising unemployment, tight credit, falling home values and other fallout from the recession. Retail sales for the six weeks that ended Dec. 13 were 2 percent behind last year and the Standard & Poor’s Retail Index has lost 31 percent in 2008.

Eight-one percent of consumers plan to reduce their holiday spending this year, according to a new study by The NPD Group research firm.

At the upscale Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey, “We’re all open…and we have good, solid foot traffic that’s building quickly,” said Michael McAvinue, the shopping center’s general manager.

A spokeswoman for Taubman Centers Inc, which operates properties ranging from Beverly Center in Los Angeles to the Mall at Short Hills, said the winter weather hurt business in many parts of the country last week but, on Saturday, a short break from the snow brought a strong turnout of shoppers. “Deeper discounts were taken this weekend,” she said. “There was lots of pent-up demand.”

The Saturday before Christmas is second in importance only to Black Friday, the first shopping day after Thanksgiving.

Weekend storms dumped as much as two feet of snow in parts of Northwest while areas of Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and northeastern New York were expected to receive as much as foot of snow.