Store Sales Hit Hard by Cold Weather

Across the country, the whiter the Christmas, the less green it becomes for retailers.

Retailers are desperately trying to recover from what has so far been a dismal holiday season. Established stores are expected to post the worst performance numbers since 1969, when the International Council of Shopping Centers started keeping track.

And with relentless storms barreling across the country this week, and paralyzing last-minute shoppers, retailers have taken a huge hit in holiday crunch-time.

Foot traffic last weekend was down 17 percent from last year, according to ShopperTrak. In the last week alone, 784 inches of snow have fallen in 112 major cities, which is three times more than the average.

"It's a disastrous scenario, with 53 percent of the country blanketed in snow during a week when we want no disruption in travel," said Bill Kirk, CEO of Weather Trends International.

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Kirk, who tracks the weather's affect on sales for stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Bon Ton, has found a strong correlation.

"For every degree colder it gets in December for the month, retail sales can lose 1 percent," Kirk said.

While 1 percent might not sound like a lot, it adds up when you do the math. Temperatures across the country dropped an average of 3 degrees last week. According to Kirk's formula, that's more than $14 billion lost in expected sales.

June Pestman, a store owner in Nashua, N.H., doesn't need to crunch the numbers. She's seen store traffic drop after an ice storm and nearly 30 inches of snow hit Nashua over the last week; it seemed as if many shoppers entered hibernation-mode.

"The weather has been brutal, it has been horrible," she said. "People just aren't getting out."

Last-Minute Deals for Brave Shoppers

Down the street, the town jeweler also struggles, with fewer people window shopping.

"It's affecting the psyche of everyone. I think with the way people have been affected by the economy, the weather hasn't helped at all," said jewelry store owner Philip Scontas.

More than a dozen Macy's Inc. stores and some local malls had hoped to spend the weekend swamped with shoppers, but fewer than they expected were willing to brave the cold.

If there is any silver lining, it comes in the form of last-minute deals for those shoppers who make it to the stores. Prices are dropping almost as much as the temperature.

"I just went to the store and got 90 percent off," one shopper said.

Stores are cutting prices and extending hours, attempting to salvage what's left of the shopping season. At this point, many retailers say they can't afford not to drop prices with fewer shoppers and even fewer days until Christmas.

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