Winter Retail Storm Preceded And Followed Jonas-Spurred Shopping Blizzard

Supermarkets and hardware shelves were emptied, as department stores quickly turned to email marketing targeted at those shut in, Fung Business and Planalytics found.

Meteorologists’ warnings of major snow fall along the east coast this past weekend spurred “panic shopping” that sent sales skyrocketing for everything from milk to snow blowers in the hours before Winter Storm Jonas hit, while retailers like Macy’s and Lord & Taylor turned up the heat on their email marketing.

As supermarket shelves emptied across New York and New Jersey, a Home Depot staffer told the New York Daily News that her store had been “selling salt by the truckload and that Friday’s batch had sold out in one hour,” noted Deborah Weinswig, Fung Business’ executive director/head of Global Retail & Technology, in a report issued late Sunday night.

Restaurants Hit Hard, As Delivery Apps Moved In

Citing weather-focused business data provider Planalytics, Weinswig estimated sales of storm-preparedness products were up between 50 percent to more than double normal times.

Government officials issued travel bans and told residents and non-urgent businesses to close during the blizzard, which dropped more than 26 inches of snow in Central Park and impacted roughly 75 million people, according to The Weather Channel. As a result, restaurants took a big hit the last two days and will have to work to recover losses during the usually busy weekend.

On-demand food delivery services promised to pick up the slack to serve what was expected to be higher numbers of people ordering in. A number of delivery companies, including GrubHub, Foodee, Caviar, Menu123, and GoPuff, made plans to continue delivering food to customers’ homes during the storm, Weinswig noted, though it was unclear how many remained in operation during Saturday night, the heaviest time the blizzard dropped over the New York region.

lord and taylorDiscovery Apps Become Key Connector

The uncertainty in the immediate aftermath of a storm is also a key time for marketers to use their digital presence channels to let consumers know if they’re open or not. For example, those that update store hours in real time on Facebook, Foursquare, Google Maps, and Yelp, can make the difference over competitors.

After all, even if a rival business is closer to where a consumer lives, if that person is unsure if that place is open, they’re not likely to take a chance. Another shop that invites them to come out into the cold and into their shop will be more likely to spur a sale.

When we spoke to Darnell Holloway, Yelp’s senior manager of Local Business Outreach, following 2015’s big blizzard, Winter Storm Juno, he emphasized the company’s free business contact feature, “Message The Business,’” as giving consumers direct access to local retailers’ information.

“While some people prefer to pick up the phone, others would much rather communicate via a keyboard,” Holloway said at the time. “A customer could use this messaging tool to ask, ‘Are you re-opening when the storm passes?’ When a consumer uses this feature to ask a question, they’ll be shown the average response time to help them understand when, on average, they might get a response from a the business.”

In turn, Holloway points out that business owners are notified of users’ messages via email or push notification if they’re using Yelp’s mobile app for business owners.

Retailers Seize The Marketing Moment

While the region’s department stores were physically empty, Ann Taylor, Lord & Taylor’s, Macy’s, Gap, and others quickly updated their regular weekend email deals to speak directly to potential customers affected by the storm.

“Can’t face the winter weather? Stay inside and shop our sale online,” went an Ann Taylor Loft email tagline, which offered 40 percent off selected merchandise, and was repeated in a number of variations by other retailers.

While Planalytics expects the blizzard to cost $850 million in lost productivity, “even after factoring in the impact of consumers stockpiling goods from chains such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, and Kroger,” Weinswig also points to Moody’s Investors Service, which concludes the economic impact will be minimal.

“Overall, the fact that the storm hit over the weekend is good news for productivity,” Weinswig writes. “When a big storm hits during the workweek, it diminishes output even more, since many people cannot get to work.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.