Sales of snowshoes aren’t making much of a mark this year. It’s been the same for cross-country skis and ice fishing houses.
With mild temperatures and barely more than a dusting of snow so far this season, Midwest Mountaineering started its after-Christmas sale a week early to entice shoppers to buy many of its cold-weather items such as hats, mittens, and parkas that have been languishing on its racks in recent weeks. The early markdowns moved merchandise but ate into the store’s profits.
“I think maybe next year we’ll be a little more conservative with our ordering,” said Rod Johnson, owner of the outdoor goods store on the West Bank in Minneapolis. “If global warming continues, we’ll have to adjust our inventory.”
Analysts and investors often roll their eyes when retailers attribute performance to weather conditions. But this holiday season, nearly everyone agrees that weather is affecting shopping.
Because of unseasonably warmer weather across the country the last two months, people on the East Coast are still firing up their barbecues and Minnesotans are waiting for lakes to freeze.
While the weather has been a boon to golf courses and home improvement stores, it’s thrown another curveball into the holiday shopping season for many retailers who bank on cashmere sweaters and scarves as being popular gift items. With high levels of inventory still left, many retailers slashed prices on these goods in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
“It’s scary,” said Doug Johnson, founder of Storm Creek, an outdoor apparel maker in Hastings. “Everything is on sale before Christmas, and stores are really being hurt.”
His company, which sells jackets, vests and fleece to boutique retailers and corporate clients, takes a hit when retailers don’t reorder because the original fall order hasn’t sold through. This year, he hasn’t had many reorders from retailers.
Like a number of brands and retail stores, Storm Creek executives have tried to adjust to fickle winters by gravitating toward lighter-weight apparel that can be layered. “We don’t see very many really heavy parkas anymore,” Johnson said.
Even if it turns colder and snowier next month, that will likely be too late for apparel retailers, he added. “By January, retailers have to get ready for spring.”
Steve Barr, retail and consumer leader at PwC, said he thinks the milder weather could lead to sales coming in a bit lower than the initial forecasts at the beginning of the season.
“Weather has had a very dramatic impact on the 2015 holiday shopping season,” he said. “The biggest winner of all this holiday season is the consumer. Without a doubt, it’s a buyer’s market.”
Specialty retailers in the U.S. have already lost about $343 million in sales in November and the first two weeks of December because of the warmer temperatures, according to Planalytics, a firm that tracks weather patterns and its impact on stores. It’s been one of the biggest hits from the weather retailers have dealt with in about 15 years, said David Frieberg, the company’s vice president of marketing.
In the Twin Cities, sales of portable heaters were down 33 percent in November compared to last year, according to Planalytics. Hats, gloves and scarves were down 26 percent. In December, sales of electric blankets have been down 10 percent and boots down 9 percent.
“It’s pretty significant,” he said. “Stores will do their damnedest in the next eight weeks to mark those items down and move them out of the stores. You’re already seeing it and it’s only going to increase.”
As cold-weather items are less in demand, shoppers are likely spending more on toys, electronics and jewelry, Frieberg said.
“They may not feel like walking into the outerwear section at Macy’s, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel like walking into an Apple Store or Best Buy,” he said. “People are still buying gifts.”
Apparel isn’t the only category suffering from the lack of cold and snow. Many of Minnesota’s ski resorts such as Afton Alps have closed some runs or delayed opening. Sales of snow shovels, snow throwers, and snow mobiles falter with a lack of powder.
Other businesses are taking advantage of it. A few golf courses extended their season into December, including Oak Marsh in Oakdale, Pioneer Creek in Maple Plain and Oak Summit in Rochester. “If there is no snow, we will likely be open,” reads the message on oakmarshgolf.com.
At Gander Mountain, a St. Paul-based chain of 160 outdoor specialty stores, sales of hunting and rain gear have been stronger than usual for this time of year while sales of its colder-weather items have slowed, said Mike Hara, a product manager. There are also more people looking to camp in the winter given the warmer temperatures.
“People are going to get out there and enjoy the outdoors,” he said. “It may just be in a different fashion than is typical” for this time of year.
Bill Ribnick, owner of Ribnick Furs in the North Loop of Minneapolis, said that when customers can still see green grass in their yards, his business usually suffers. Still, it hasn’t been as bad this year as expected. One reason is that he’s made adjustments to his inventory for warmer winters. Full-length, heavy fur coats have been replaced with sheared, lighter-weight jackets and vests.
“Sales are down slightly but that can still change dramatically if we see snow between Christmas and New Year’s,” said Ribnick.
At Target, sweaters have been actually still selling well this season, said company spokesman Joshua Thomas. That’s a reflection in part of the adjustments its merchandising teams made to use lighter materials in its clothes after consulting weather data and figuring that it would likely be a milder winter this year.
“It impacts how deeply we buy into certain products and things like the weight of a sweater,” said Thomas. “You can use a heavier yarn if it’s going to be colder.”
Bruce Bildsten, chief marketing officer at Faribault Woolen Mill in Faribault, Minn., said that sales growth has slowed but are still above year-ago levels. “We are different,” he said. “Our products as more of a legacy brand are in a better position than outerwear, gloves or a sweater. It’s a gift that endures as opposed to something on clearance.”
Its recent holiday pop-up sale in New York City, an annual event for the company, yielded its biggest sales ever despite happening on a 65-degree day, Bildsten said. Shoppers showed up in flip-flops and shorts.
In Minnesota, it’s still cold enough for customers to want to buy, he said.
“If it was in the 50s, it would be different,” Bildsten said. “At 35 degrees, you still want to throw on a scarf or add a throw while you’re watching TV.”