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Warm Weather Brings Not-too-Sunny Forecast for Apparel Sales

Retail DIVE

By: Daphne Howland

Dive Brief:

Unseasonably warm temperatures and little to no snow in many parts of the country are freezing out sales of sweaters and cold-weather outerwear.

In the week ended Dec. 12, outerwear sales nationwide are significantly down: 36% in New York, 38% in Philadelphia, 34% in Chicago, 41% in Boston, 35% in Nashville, 35% in Atlanta, and 18% in Houston, according to weather planning and analytics firm Planalytics.

The higher temps are leading to price cuts in outerwear and in other warmer clothing like sweaters, fleece, scarfs and gloves. All that merchandise could see steep discounts in January, Planalytics notes analysts are warning.

Dive Insight:

Some people may be celebrating the ability to leave their winter coat in the closet well into December this year, while others may fret over what global warming might mean in the bigger picture. Retailers, meanwhile, must get a handle on weather patterns to avoid mistiming their sales of weather-dependent merchandise and getting forced into heavy discounts, says Planalytics.

Fast-fashion retailers may have better luck than traditional big-box and department stores with anticipating weather patterns because of their swift in-and-out of merchandise. But even H&M reported dampened results in November due to warmer weather in Europe and elsewhere.

Planning for weather patterns can be difficult, Planalytics notes, because last year’s weather isn’t a good blueprint for what lies ahead.

“Last November, [retailers] came close to or ran out of outerwear early. It was such a panic. So this year, no matter what the data tells them, they plan up from last year,” Planalytics president Scott A. Bernhardt told the New York Times. “They get stuck in the past a little bit.”

While retailers have been hit with slow traffic due to major weather events in the past, retailers would be wise to keep an eye on week-to-week weather patterns.

“It’s not just extreme or memorable weather events (e.g. snowstorms, heat waves, droughts, “polar vortexes”, etc.) that matter,” the company notes in its report, “Weatherizing a Retail Business.” “The daily, weekly, and monthly temperature and precipitation variations often matter more as they can help dictate when a season starts, when it peaks, and its overall strength in each of a retailer’s regions or markets.”

Indeed, New York City luxury fur seller Stuart Greenberg says he has become something of a meteorologist. And Target has had a climate team in place to study past weather patterns and current forecasts for more than a decade.

“Unfortunately, I majored in accounting in college. I should have majored in weather,” Greenberg told the New York Times. “So every morning, I do the temperature dance outside in my underwear and pray that it gets cold.”

Weather and climate strategist at the Weather Company Paul Walsh told the Times that retailers might be seeing some relief this week, as temperatures drop and drive the need for cold-weather items.

But the struggles that retailers are having with winter weather could repeat itself this spring, when temperatures could be unseasonably cold and rain could turn to snow as late as May in some areas.

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