Shop ’til you’re hot: How the warm weather affects Chistmas shopping

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 Jeffrey Beckett of Capital Teas (Avi Wolfman-Arnet/WHYY)

Jeffrey Beckett of Capital Teas (Avi Wolfman-Arnet/WHYY)

It’s hot. It’s wet. It’s sticky. It’s … Christmas?

Temperatures have been balmy this winter in Philadelphia, and they’re peaking just in time for the holidays. Forecasters are predicting record highs on Christmas Eve.

While that may make for some uncomfortable chestnut roasting, it’s even bigger news for area retailers.

Weather is always a player in the retail game. But when extreme weather hits during an especially busy shopping period, the impact grows.

Just ask Jeffrey Beckett. He’s a sales associate at the Ardmore location of Capital Teas, a speciality tea retailer based in the mid-Atlantic. From his perch in the corner of the Ardmore Farmers Market, he’s finding it tough to offload his Christmas-themed samples of piping hot tea (one called Cinnamon Sugar Plum and another cheekily named O’ Christmas Tea).

“We rely on the advertising we get from the foot traffic where we ask people if they wanna try some tea. And they sample it, and they sort of fall in love,” said Beckett.

Hot tea and hot weather, however, aren’t a great combination.

“Since it’s the winter time, we’re supposed to put out warm tea for people to come and enjoy,” said Beckett. “However, with it being so warm outside, it’s really throwing them off. They’re not as willing necessarily to come into our store.”

It’s also been a tough holiday season for department stores, sporting goods stores, and other outlets that sell winter apparel, said David Freiburg, vice president of marketing at Planlytics, a Berwyn-based company that measures the impact of weather on business.

“Shoppers are just not thinking about walking into the coats department at Macy’s or thinking about buying hats and gloves and scarves,” said Freiburg. “The demand is just not there for those seasonal apparel products.”

Sales at apparel-specific stores are down $421 million nationally from last year due to the sustained warm weather in the eastern two-thirds of the country, according to numbers crunched by Planalytics. That doesn’t include apparel losses sustained by department stores and other mixed-merchandise outlets.

In Philadelphia, sales of hats, gloves, and scarves are down 17 percent from last year, according to Planalytics. That’s compares with a 5 percent drop nationally.

Retailers are already discounting their winter-weather apparel to help move the stockpiles of coats and hats clogging their stockrooms, said Freiberg. Those discounts should get even steeper after the holiday passes.

“The panic has been growing with a lot of these companies as they move through the weeks of the season,” Freiberg said.

But what’s bad for one type of business is a boon for others.

The absence of snow has aided foot traffic and given a boost to restaurants. Planalytics estimates restaurant traffic is up 2.2 percent this December over last year.

Plus, the part of the Christmas shopping pie that usually went to apparel companies is being served elsewhere.

“It’s the holiday season. [People] are going to spend money. They’re going to go out and shop,” said Freiberg. “They just tend to find themselves buying different things.”

One of the big winners, he said, are hardware stores, whose business tends to suffer when the mercury drops and people hit pause on their home improvement projects.  Jewelry stores, toy stores, electronics suppliers and other retailers who “don’t have merchandise that’s as seasonally impacted” also benefit, said Freiberg.

Even Capital Teas may have something to cheer.

While soup sales are down 3 percent this year due to the warmer climes, Planalytics said tea sales are actually up 6 percent. Iced tea, that is.

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