Mild Winter Could Mean Best-Ever Deals on Winter Coats and Cold-Weather Gear

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There aren’t many people who are complaining that this winter has been too warm, too storm-free, and altogether too comfortable. But there is one group griping the weather just isn’t cold or snowy enough: retailers that sell coats, boots, shovels, mittens, long underwear, and other winter gear.

The New York Times and the Associated Press both recently reported on the implications of the mild winter of 2011-2012.

For you and me and everyone else who hasn’t been forced to shovel much snow or regularly brave sub-zero temperatures, this winter has been a nice reprieve from the usual shivers and dangerous driving conditions at this time of year. For retailers selling merchandise that consumers only need when it’s cold and snowy, though, this winter is causing a blizzard of problems.

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Thus far this winter, sales are down for seasonal purchases of everything from shovels and de-icing salts at Home Depot, to winter apparel from the likes of Kohl’s and T.J. Maxx, to flu shots at drugstore chains.

The result is that many retailers are left with a glut of cold-weather merchandise that they’ll need to get rid of soon to make way for spring and summer items. And how are they likely to unload all of this winter gear? Through discounts and firesale-like deals, naturally.

Every changing of the seasons brings with it the opportunity to snag steeply discounted merchandise simply by timing your purchases right. Sites like dealnews and lifehacker and books such as Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon list the optimal times of year for buying goods at the best prices. Usually, the formula for snagging deals is as simple as waiting for an item’s peak purchasing season to end, and then scoop up whatever’s left over. Barbecue grills are bound to go on sale after Labor Day, for instance, while markdowns on winter coats and boots inevitably pop up around March.

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This year, though, the window of opportunity for snagging deals on wintertime merchandise looks to be extraordinarily large and inviting. The AP notes that coats are “the biggest headaches” for retailers:

They take up a lot of space, and they are expensive, so big markdowns hurt the bottom line more. Stores are discounting coats by 70 percent on average, and many are slashing prices on entire coat departments.

An REI executive named Tim Spangler told the Times that the retailer plans on trying all sorts of methods to unload winter gear, including “promotions, markdowns, moving inventory around to other parts of the country where it’s selling quicker.”

Consumers can expect deals on coats, boots, and the like to appear earlier than the usual winter, and also to come with markdowns that are much bigger than the usual winter (and post-winter). Come springtime, retailers will probably be just about giving away any winter coats they haven’t yet been able to sell.

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With the possible exception that this winter is a sign of global warming, the mild season appears to be a win-win-win for consumers. The first two wins are for the fact that the winter is atypically comfortable and that this year is ideal to stock up on cold-weather gear on the cheap.

And the third win? That one’s because the mild winter has meant heating bills are lower than usual for many Americans—and as a result of slack demand, natural gas prices are expected to get even cheaper, bringing heating bills down further.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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