Monday January 24th, 2011 - 1:20PM
NEW YORK— Grounded by a winter storm that buried the Northeast for the second time in three weeks and turned the unsuspecting Southeast into the world’s largest, most treacherous ice rink on the eve of the Atlanta International Gift Market, I am reminded of the first rule in retailing when things don’t go as well as planned: Blame the weather.
You see it in financial releases all the time from retailers, especially publicly traded companies with Wall Street bearing down on them like a nor’easter.
Too hot. Too cold. Too dry. Too rainy. Too snowy.
I remember the incoming president of a leading appliance maker several years ago lambasting the practice of blaming slumping sales on the weather, only to point the finger at Mother Nature when a cool spring and summer dampened the company’s outdoor grill sales.
It’s ironic that those in the seasonal comfort appliance business, which some believe can be impacted by 25% or more depending on the weather, often root for climate conditions in opposition to the wishes of their retail customers. For instance, while retailers lament all those beachgoers during sweltering summers, fan makers rejoice.
To be sure, sometimes it really is about the weather, and that’s serious stuff. Like when the blizzard slammed the Northeast the day after this past Christmas, which happened to be a Sunday that retailers had marked on their calendars weeks earlier as the second coming of Black Friday. Black Sunday was more like it, if estimates are accurate of the $1 billion in delayed post-holiday sales that would have capped what was on pace to be a stout December.
There was a time not too long ago when retailers had little choice but to wait out weather delays in hopes the business eventually could be recouped. It was out of their control, after all.
Not anymore. Not with consumers more comfortable with Internet shopping and e-commerce more confidently entrenched as a core contributor to the revenue strategies of brick-and-mortar merchants. Not when you can turn a store door closed by drifting snow into a wide-open sales opportunity.
More retailers should develop web-only promotions— “Snow Day Deals”— they can keep in their hip pockets just for occasions when the elements shut in consumers with nothing but the glow of their PCs, iPads and smartphones to keep them warm. These could include limited-time, online shopping discounts or bonuses that could be email-blasted or tweeted directly to shoppers in areas most impacted by weather. Or just let everybody in on the unexpected specials.
If driving store traffic remains the objective, bad-weather promotions could give consumers, whenever possible, the option of completing transactions online and picking up products at stores with the incentive of additional in-store discounts or other value-adds during the store visits.
Get creative. Be nimble. And make the offers surprising, substantial and compelling enough to plow through the ordinary daily web, email and social media clutter.
All the advanced weather forecasting technology available today to retailers and suppliers might help guide inventory and promotional decisions, but it can’t shuttle shoppers to the stores when the bad weather actually hits.
Incremental web sales on days when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate might not make up for all the potentially lost in-store revenue. But what retailer wouldn’t welcome the chance to reclaim some of the control lost to inclement weather by capturing existing and new shoppers with such online promotions?
Stormy weather doesn’t have to ground retail sales like it once did. Those who let a foot of snow bury their sales momentum without an online marketing contigency...well, they know who to blame.