Will Christmas Shopping Be Snowed Out?

Major snowstorm sweeps into Northeast on the last weekend before Christmas.

December 18, 2009, 8:00 PM

Dec. 18, 2009 — -- A major winter storm sweeping the East Coast is expected to snow in a significant portion of the U.S. population on the weekend before Christmas.

But will Mother Nature's blow to the heavily populated region be enough to snarl the holiday shopping season?

Considering better weather in other parts of the country and the fact that retailers may have all next week to recoup potentially lost sales, experts are divided on the storm's overall impact.

Some worry sales on "Super Saturday," one of the largest shopping days before Christmas, will be seriously impacted by the storm.

"This is bad news, as it will hit significant population centers," said Scott Bernhardt with Planalytics, which measures weather impacts on shopping behavior. "Lots of people will be affected by this storm."

Others minimize the storm's potential impact on holiday sales.

"We are losing one day in one region versus last year when we probably lost seven days over many regions," because of snow, said Bill Kirk, CEO of Weather Trends International, another firm that works with retailers.

He stressed that while the storm is very intense, it is in a narrow part of the country.

Last year, he pointed out, more than 60 percent of the country was covered in snow several days before Christmas.

But retail consultant Burt Flickinger noted that the storm is hitting an area filled with malls and big-box retailers like Walmart, Kmart and Toys "R" Us.

Flickinger worried that malls will lack sufficient snow plows to clear out parking lots and that cutbacks by local and state governments of law enforcement will lead to insufficient traffic control in shopping areas.

He pointed out that it was difficult for shoppers to get in and out of stores this year on Black Friday, when the weather was warm and dry. With inclement weather, the situation could be worse and shoppers may opt to stay home, perhaps even shopping online, as many shippers have extended the deadline for packages to arrive in time for Christmas.

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