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Amid Polar Vortex’s Icy Havoc, Some Products in Hot Demand

By Jeff Neff, Advertising Age

The “polar vortex” that created some of the lowest temperatures in 20 years for much of the U.S. is dealing a bitter blow to some marketers, but presenting new opportunities to others as a post-holiday week turned into an extended bout of cabin fever.

Among the expected winners – marketers of road salt, wiper fluid and space heaters – along with e-commerce players, particularly those offering same-day delivery such as eBay Now or food-delivery service Seamless. Among the losers are just about any retailer or restaurant relying on people leaving their homes, unless they happened to be in airports.

As of mid-Tuesday, weather had resulted in cancellation of more than 11,000 U.S. flights since Sunday and delays of another 23,000, according to Flightaware.com. JetBlue shut down service to four of the busiest airports in the country late Monday, including the three major New York airports and Boston Logan International.

So far, however, JetBlue and others appeared to avoid major PR crises that had dogged some past weather events, even though they still have the big task of clearing airports crowded with hundreds of thousands of stranded travelers.

Chicago agencies DDB, Leo Burnett and DraftFCB either closed or advised people to stay home amid wind chills of 40 below zero or more in Chicago on Monday though most returned to business as usual on Tuesday.

Retailers, many of whom are subscribers to weather forecaster Planalytics, appeared fairly well prepared. Planalytics had forecast the bout of cold and snowy weather more than two weeks out, and beyond that had advised that this winter was likely to be tougher than last year’s relatively mild one, said Evan Gold, senior VP-client service.

Lowe’s began planning for winter weather needs in July and has teams to monitor weather on a monthly or even daily basis, a spokeswoman said in an e-mail, and can respond with emergency supplies in as little as a day. The home-improvement retailer is seeing strong demand for ice melt, pipe insulation, space heaters and generators, she said.

Walmart stores in such Midwestern cities as Cincinnati had several pallet-size displays of space heaters that were well picked over by Monday. A Sears spokeswoman said the cold weather is driving people to buy outerwear, fleece and cold-weather accessories, particularly in the Central and Eastern regions.

Consumer Edge Research analyst Stacie Rabinowitz said the cold snap comes at a time many retailers have their winter gear on clearance. But she said retailers who can adapt quickly enough to scrap plans for “setting resort season and clearing out coats” will fare best, listing Macy’s and T.J. Maxx among retailers best at adapting to the weather.

Gift cards
Scott Bernhardt, president of Planalytics, said people are in many cases just staying at home ordering items online or via mobile devices, with online activation of holiday gift cards up as people use their unscheduled time at home to shop.

Standalone restaurants stand to be among the most negatively affected, he said. Longer-term, he said the higher-than-usual heating bills that will be arriving next month are likely to hurt President’s Day sales.

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