The unusually warm weather is making a serious mess for clothing retailers

No snow here.
No snow here.
Image: Reuters/Hugh Gentry
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Most years it isn’t too presumptuous for retailers to stock up on cold-weather clothing to sell as temperatures drop through the fall in the Northern hemisphere. But this year’s unseasonably warm weather is wreaking havoc on that game plan, on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the US, two different weather-focused consultancies, Planalytics and Weather Trends International, have looked at the effect warm weather has had on retail sales. The results aren’t good, though the upshot is that consumers can probably expect significant discounts on items such as outerwear and sweaters as stores try to clear out their slow-moving inventory.

Planalytics estimates that US stores lost $185 million in sales in November because of the warm weather in the Midwest and on the East Coast, as WWD reported (paywall). That’s more than the $166 million the firm had originally forecast, and the trend has thus far continued through December. It says for the week of Dec. 12, outerwear sales were down more than 30% in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Nashville, Chicago, and Atlanta.

Weather Trends International, which helps large retailers such as Walmart plan their weather-related buying, says sales of cold-weather apparel can fluctuate 3% to 5% for every degree of temperature change. As Bill Kirk, the firm’s CEO, told BuzzFeed, it was about 20 degrees warmer in New York this weekend compared to last year, so something like fleece could see sales down as much as 60%. Those sorts of numbers spell trouble for any company that planned for this year based on last year’s record cold.

The situation hasn’t been much better in Europe, where H&M saw stunted sales growth last month. “Sales in November were negatively affected by the unseasonably mild weather in North America and in many of the H&M group’s large sales markets in Europe,” the company stated in a press release. Temperatures in Germany, where the company gets about 20% of its sales, felt more like September.

The result is that retailers, who were already blaming the weather for a slump in their third-quarter sales, will probably continue to see slow sales through the end of the year and into the start of next. Many are overloaded with inventory as it is, and will likely have to rely on steep discounts to get rid of all the coats and sweaters that have piled up. As Kirk put it to BuzzFeed, “The after-Christmas sales are going to be ginormous. If you saw 50% off sales last year after Christmas, you might expect 75% off next year.”

To make matters worse, Weather Trends International expects a very cold, very wet spring to follow. Just when people are ready to go shopping for some new warm-weather clothes, they may have to reach for one of those coats they didn’t wear in the fall.