Winter Storm Ursula Is The Latest Threat To Retail

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Shoppers in New York during a snow storm.
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Retail traffic and sales this week were already up against tough compares from last year’s pre-Easter and Easter weekend rush. Now, Winter Storm Ursula, forecast to dump up to six inches of snow on parts of southern New York to southern New England, could deliver another retail drag.

According to retail traffic numbers out today, and posted by Citi Research analyst Kate McShane and Cowen and Co. analyst John Kernan, retail traffic in the fifth week of March slid more than 20 percent. Total U.S. retail same-store traffic was down 24.80 percent year-over-year for the week, compared with gains of 17.17 percent last year, McShane added.

“We are surprised that traffic deteriorated overall in March given favorable weather,” Kernan said.

After an unseasonably warm winter left seasonal inventory high, retailers had been hoping for a better selling season this spring. But decent temperatures in March were not the boon to traffic that some had hope for, while projections for a cooler April and May could lead to another round of inventory challenges.

While footwear and apparel sales largely dependent on weather — demand for spring categories in the East was likely impacted by the steep decline in temperatures into the weekend, according to McShane — Mother Nature remains a major catalyst for retail traffic in general.

Kernan said he expects traffic for the first week of April to range from flat to gains of 2 percent, reverting back to pre-Easter growth rates.

“According to Weather Trends International, April will start off this week as the coldest in 25-plus years in the Northeast, while the West will have one of the warmest starts to April in 25-plus years,” Kernan wrote. “The Midwest could see snow early in the week and that cold air will move through to the Northeast and even Mid-South by the end of the week. Outside of the West region, cooler weather will be negative for spring categories and store traffic.”