E-Retailers Are Loving This Frigid Weather

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Ross D. Franklin/ AP

When the weather outside is frightful, consumers tend to stay indoors and go shopping online. And guess what they buy? Lots and lots of warm clothes.

Mother Nature has a long history of making or breaking sales for retailers and manufacturers. Two years ago, for instance, the unusually mild winter translated into absolutely dismal sales of cold-weather gear such as winter coats, boots, hats, and gloves, as well as shovels, de-icing salts, and even flu shots. The flip side is that the warm winter also amounted to something of a stimulus plan for other businesses, including golf courses and gardening supply stores, which benefitted from all those homeowners and consumers eager to get outside in January and February.

It’s quite a different story, of course, in the current winter, which so far has featured a polar vortex, record-breaking cold, and heating bills that’ll be brutal thanks to gas shortages and lingering subzero temperatures. It goes without saying that not many people have been gardening or starting outdoor spring projects early this year. Consumers have, however, picked up spending in other ways.

(MORE: Think the Cold Is Brutal? Wait Until Your Heating Bill Arrives)

Painfully cold weather naturally causes consumers to spend more time indoors, which is bad for the stores that rely on shoppers regularly hitting the mall. On the other hand, the presence of frigid temperatures does tend to spur on sales of apparel and other gear designed to help people cope with the cold.

After two abnormally warm winters, companies that specialize in cold-weather apparel such as Columbia Sportswear are now benefitting from “more normal weather conditions,” according to a D.A. Davidson & Co. analyst Andrew Burns note to investors quoted in the Portland Business Journal. The cold temperatures “have translated into healthy outer-wear sales trends across the outdoor, sporting goods and department store channels,” Burns wrote.

One sales channel in particular is understandably going gangbusters lately: e-retail. According to data cited by Internet Retailer, online traffic to seven of the top e-commerce sites for outdoor apparel is up 22% this month compared to January 2013. Average weekly traffic lately for EMS.com, for instance, has been up 49% over the same period a year ago. During a particularly rough seven-day cold spell in New York City, sales among metropolitan area online shoppers at the TheNorthFace.com were up 93% compared to the same time span in 2013. The North Face’s online sales this month in cities such as Chicago and Washington, D.C., have been on a pace that’s more than double that of January 2013.

(MORE: Why Supermarkets Are Loving the Polar Vortex)

Cold-weather apparel and gear sellers stand to generate even more attention (and sales, presumably) this weekend, when the Super Bowl will be played in a cold-weather stadium a few miles from the media capital of the world. They’re probably even hoping for snow, as well as the kind of see-your-own-breath cold that’ll make viewers cringe — and warm up to the idea that they could really use some new hi-tech clothes to keep them from freezing.

Nike, Under Armour, and Tommy Bahama are among the NFL partners pushing cold-weather “performance gear” articles of apparel specially designed for braving the cold. “The weather generates more buzz,” Under Armour marketing vice president Steve Sommers told Adweek. “That’s good because it gives us an opportunity to talk about our latest ColdGear technology.”