March 8, 2012 - 4:42pm
By Laura Van Zeyl

On the heels of Atlanta’s freakish winter storm just before its International Gift & Home Furnishings Market and the brutal arctic blasts that pummeled the Northeast, we in Chicago are still digging out from the third biggest snowstorm in our history. When weather is severe enough to literally shut down a major metropolis, it’s serious business. And it has a serious impact on business.

ShopperTrak estimated that the post-Christmas blizzard in the Northeast delayed $1 billion in retail spending for the region. In 2009, Dec. 26 was the second highest day of foot traffic for stores, behind the infamous Black Friday after Thanksgiving. But because of the snow, U.S retail traffic that day was 11.2 percent behind what was forecast, and foot traffic on Dec. 27 in the Northeast was 42.9 percent below the previous year.

While attendance at AmericasMart-Atlanta’s January event was still impressive (no official figures released, but year-to-year growth reported and observed), organizers lamented how the snow and ice prevented some people from participating. There were product casualties, too, since some UPS and FedEx shipments were unable to reach their destinations.

I have seen some retailers make lemonade from these meteorological lemons — and not just the folks who sell shovels. Snow-themed sales sprouted up around Chicago to encourage the city’s de facto shut-ins to venture out. One particularly clever one offered 20.5 percent off, playing up the official O’Hare Airport inch tally for the storm. Maybe it’s cold comfort to turn a massive inconvenience into a marketing gimmick, but it’s instantly relatable — like sharing membership in a common fraternity (albeit one that no one wanted to pledge). And it got that store on the evening news.

So how did your store make the best of these blustery situations? Regardless of how you’ve weathered the storms, I’m sure you’re as ready as I am to prove the Groundhog right with an early spring.

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