Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Shopping, Snowed Out

Snow today is messing up retailers’ holiday plans.

The Saturday before Christmas is almost always the biggest day of the year for retail sales. We’re not just talking about Christmas gift shopping, though the day is the last hurrah for many Christmas gift shoppers. But it is also a big grocery shopping day, and some households will spend as much on Christmas-weekend food as they spend on Christmas gifts. And of course, today is a big day for Christmas trees and other decorations.

But today, a major snowstorm is interfering with this pattern. And although the storm is not particularly widespread in a geographical sense, it is affecting major cities from North Carolina to Connecticut, with the heaviest snow, 10 to 20 inches, expected across the densely populated area from Washington to New York. The storm is forecast to continue on Sunday between Philadelphia and Boston. I have to guess that the snow will keep most would-be shoppers at home across the affected region for much of the weekend. Some will catch up on their shopping on Monday or Tuesday, but life is busy, and it isn’t realistic to expect most people to catch up on anything, once they fall behind — they will make do with less.

This is bad news for retailers, of course, and it is a big enough event to make its mark on the sales summaries and economic statistics that come out at the end of the month. But as much as it affects the retailers, this reduced spending has little impact on the shoppers. Another present, decoration, or pie would be quickly forgotten, but the snow, which will still be on the ground on Christmas Day, will be remembered.