Ice Ice Retail: Mother Nature's Rocky Relationship with Store Traffic

Photo of Adam Herman
Date: 2015-02-20 16:03:14 // Categories: Retail,
By: Adam Herman
Date: 2015-02-20 16:03:14 // Categories: Retail,

The Polar Vortex that devastated most of the country this week isn’t going away just yet. It’s getting worse. Sub-zero temperatures lower than 20 degrees below and dangerously cold wind chills are expected to move in across the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic and several other states.

Economic Impact

The weather caused company closings, extensive flight delays, power outages, car accidents, and dangerous road conditions. But the story that gets lost is the economic impact from this arctic blast. How is the weather affecting retailers, restaurants and other businesses?

Until the snow has melted, we won’t know for sure. In fact, the National Retail Federation said extreme temperatures and severe ice and snow are making it increasingly difficult to assess if the retail sales slowdown is temporary or a telling sign of a longer-lasting weakness in the consumer-fueled economy.

Several retail sectors were hit hard this week, while other products and services have benefited. Here are some of the winners and losers.

Retail Winners

  • Those stranded had to shell out money for hotel rooms and meals causing airport-area hotels and restaurants to experience a surge in business.
  • Landscapers, snow plowing services and tow-trucks are seeing a huge jump in sales plowing driveways and towing away stranded cars.
  • Motorists have been running out to purchase new tires or snow tires to be prepared for the worst driving conditions, causing a surge in sales for these retailers.
  • For every auto claim paid resulting from damaged cars, a repair shop experiences a pickup in business – money that goes right back into the economy to boost growth.
  • Anybody who’s selling online goods, because customers are stuck at home, so what do they do? They turn to the web, assuming they have power, and order goods.
  • “On-Demand” for cable companies, restaurant deliveries, and then everyone who’s selling need-based products, so convenience stores, grocery stores, home centers, to go get the bread, milk, ice melt, rock salt, etc.


Hardest Hit Retail Categories

  • Brick and Mortar retailers across the board: One of those weeks when you wished you had pumped more dollars into your drive-to-site strategy.
  • Transportation has taken the biggest punch as a result of roadways and airport bottlenecks, which triggered a chain reaction including stalling shipments of finished goods and raw materials and cutting into retail sales.
  • Thousands of flights were cancelled or delayed, which ultimately hit consumers’ wallets. It is estimated that these backups cost passengers more than $2.5 billion and airlines altogether $75 to $150 million. Further, the roughly 30 million airline passengers stuck en route cost their employers billions in lost productivity.
  • Car dealers took a hit as severe winter weather kept potential buyers away from showrooms. However, if consumers were ready to buy a new car before the Polar Vortex swooped down on them, we believe they will likely return after the snow has melted from the showroom parking lot.
  • Anything that is discretionary purchasing, entertainment centers, movie theaters, certainly sit-down restaurants, and malls felt an impact, simply based on the fact that customers aren’t going out and the traffic decreases pretty significantly.


Economists predict that Q1 will get the worst of Mother Nature’s wrath. But, there will be some bounce back to make up for it in Q2, and that overall this weather shouldn’t have much of an impact for the year as whole.

More than a Plow, Have A Plan

Cold weather, blizzards, natural disasters, extreme heat waves, and excessive flooding are completely out of our control. And, they are often unexpected. Many weather events and natural disasters come with little or no warning. That’s why it’s critical that retailers of all sizes plan for the unexpected – all 12 months of the year. They should assume that uncontrollable or unanticipated events – which may or may not be weather related – will impact their business; have backup, contingency plans and marketing promotions stacked up like snow plows and ready to go; and know which categories and products will fly off the shelves. Do they have those products in stock? If not, are they prepared to procure them quickly when the unexpected happens? They should also consider having marketing and advertising in place to capitalize on these events.

Part of your planning should include developing an omni-channel, digital and marketing strategy that’s ready to be activated at any time, especially if your retail stores are closed or deserted. Have promotions in place to drive people to your website about special or exclusive online offers; a tactical plan ready to execute, including special website copy; targeted messages, customer emails to blast, social media content; and ads in the can. People stuck home during inclement weather spend a lot of time online including shopping. Capitalize on this captive audience.

So if you’re a retailer whose traffic went cold this winter, remember: There are weather-busting promotions you can have planned in advance. There are ways to leverage weather news in social media to drive to site. There are ways to combat ice, sleet, snow, bitter cold and stay insulated. Because in retail, the rule is get hot and stay hot no matter what the thermometer says.