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Blizzard stymies post-holiday sales

Shoppers fight the elements while leaving the Broadway

Shoppers fight the elements while leaving the Broadway Mall in Hicksville. (Dec. 26, 2010) Credit: Joel Cairo

For retailers, the snowstorm's timing couldn't have been much worse.

Yesterday "would have been among the top five to six days of the year when it comes to shopping traffic and revenue opportunity," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group, a Port Washington market research firm. " A lot of the momentum they gained, the storm just blew it right out the window."

Since Sunday is a day off from work for most consumers, retailers were hoping to move a lot of their remaining winter and holiday inventory. Long Island stores were likely to lose 35 to 40 percent of their expected shopping traffic, Cohen said.

Only a blizzard on the last Saturday before Christmas would have hit harder, he said.

"It's a big deal and not a good thing," Cohen said of the storm's timing. "But the good news is that this is a post-Christmas event and there's no deadline to this retail day."

More discounts possible

Now consumers can expect to see retailers stretch out those sales over the next few weekends to make up for the lost business, he said.

Britt Beemer, who heads America's Research Group, in Charleston, S.C., said the storm could cut foot traffic 33 to 50 percent yesterday, today and possibly tomorrow. The storm's effect on overall holiday sales could be half of a percentage point drop, he said.

Retailers, eager to display their spring inventory, likely will now offer 10 to 20 percent more off winter items, he said.

"Retailers are in a time crunch," Beemer said. "They might lose five days in January because of weather. So think extra discounts New Year's Day? words missing here?/jb/see add/rmc [and] moving forward."

Some retailers do 25 to 35 percent of their December sales this week, so the storm "could be deadly" for them, Beemer said. Many, such as bookstores, that sold gift cards were hoping people would use them this week. Shoppers with gift cards may now go online, but whether they buy depends on shipping charges, he said.

Lesser impact seen

But Barry Berman, a marketing and international business professor at Hofstra University, said the impact may not be as severe. In recent years, shops have taken some of the luster off Dec. 26 sales by offering consistent, similar promotions in earlier weeks, he said.

For those seeking post-Christmas returns, exchanges, bargains, and gift card purchases, early Sunday was a race against the elements.

"I don't think it really matters, at least now," Michael Chung, 18, of Levittown, said of the blizzard that was just getting under way.

He was with more than a dozen people waiting for GameStop to open its doors inside the Broadway Mall in Hicksville.He was there to buy games for the PlayStation he got as a gift.

The get-in, get-out mentality was on full display at shopping centers across Long Island. At Walt Whitman Mall in South Huntington, Banana Republic employee Lyssa Spinner was shocked to see so many people out before 8 a.m.

"I've seen weekends be real busy, but this may have been the busiest," she said of the early morning rush.

Tanger Outlets in Riverhead and Deer Park closed at 3 p.m., five hours early.

"We anticipated a big day today, but I think most of the shopping centers are in the same situation," said Curt Fickeisen, general manager of Tanger Outlets at the Arches. "I think it's a matter of delaying the business, rather than losing it entirely."

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