Historic Snowstorm Chills Retail During Crucial Holiday Season

Although the barrage of snow and ice may have settled, Carolinians and Virginians continue to grapple with below-freezing temperatures that have made for dangerous travel conditions in the South.

The record-breaking storm blanketed the Carolinas and Virginia late into the weekend and Monday, but melting snow that froze overnight led to slick areas of black ice on roads, reports the National Weather Service. A winter weather advisory remained in effect for portions of the harder-hit North Carolina through Tuesday morning.

The bitter weather not only impacted travelers — who risked car accidents or, worse, were left stranded — but also affected retailers in the area. A number of local boutiques, independent retailers and even bigger industry names were forced to shutter their doors, with more than 60,000 homes and businesses across the states suffering power outages today.

DSW, for example, kept some of its stores closed, including those in the Raleigh-Durham area. (The footwear chain operates 10 stores in North Carolina but didn’t specify the number of closings.)

“The safety of our associates and customers is our top priority. As such, a few of our North Carolina stores are closed due to weather,” confirmed Kari Harkins, senior director of store operations. “Some order delivery may also be delayed slightly, but we anticipate a quick correction once roads are cleared.”

Shoe retailer Rack Room, which is headquartered in Charlotte, also reported that its offices were closed Monday. Although about 10 of its stores closed early or opened late, most are now operating under normal business hours.

“We may experience some early closings in our mountain area locations but will continue to monitor,” reported Brenda Christmon, the company’s corporate communications director.

The snowstorm arrives just three months after the Category 4 Hurricane Florence pummeled the Carolina coast, with storm surges, flooding and hurricane-force winds also affecting Virginia. Business owners worked to secure the hatches, and stores on the outskirts of the battered region reported a slowdown in foot traffic as people hunkered down until the hurricane had passed.

It also comes ahead of the crucial holiday shopping season, which is expected to generate between $717.45 billion and $720.89 billion for the industry, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey. Considering the inclement weather, consumers might find themselves unable to make it to physical locations, thus turning to e-commerce to do their gift shopping.

However, with the NRF reporting that 50 percent of customers plan to pick up their online purchases in stores, it’s possible that the weather will have some effect on brick-and-mortar sales. “Although the rate of online sales growth is accelerating faster than that of physical stores, retailers should put resources behind both to be relevant,” Deloitte LLP vice chairman Rod Sides previously told FN.

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