Washington area retailers try to recoup sales lost in snowstorm

By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Local retailers are scrambling to recoup sales lost from the weekend snowstorm, offering extended hours and special deals as the clock runs out on Christmas.

Old Navy said it would discount gift cards by 20 percent for shoppers in the Washington area, the first such promotion in the chain's history. Toys R Us planned to increase the number of stores that will be open from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. over the next two days and is shipping extra inventory to affected areas.

Borders said it is expanding the number of stores that will stay open until midnight, and Target said its East Coast stores will burn the midnight oil as well. The Mall in Columbia said it would stay open until midnight on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The blizzard slammed local retailers on what was supposed to be the busiest shopping day of the year, so-called Super Saturday. Local malls shut down early as shoppers remained hunkered down in their homes, and traffic didn't recover until Sunday afternoon.

Many of those sales will shift to this week as consumers rush to cross off their Christmas lists. But Scott Bernhardt, chief operating officer of Planalytics, which provides weather forecasts to businesses, said retailers won't ring up as many impulse purchases. He estimated the storm cost the industry about $2 billion in sales.

"The industry as a whole will not be able to completely make up for so many lost shopping hours in so many heavily populated centers," he said.

Though the storm may have hurt bricks-and-mortar stores, it was a boon for online retailers, according to Coremetrics, which analyzes Web traffic. It estimated that retail sales on Friday and Saturday jumped 24 percent compared with the last Friday and Saturday before Christmas in 2008. Typically, e-commerce sales drop off during the weekend before Christmas because consumers are worried that their orders may not arrive in time, said John Squire, chief strategy officer for Coremetrics. But he said online retailers made a strong push this year to guarantee delivery dates and increase promotions. In addition, online retail became the last resort for housebound consumers.

"The last-minute shoppers on the East Coast who had intended to hit the malls this weekend really had no option but to shop online," he said.

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