Big shopping weekend buried by snow

A family walks past snow piled in a shopping mall parking lot in Columbia, Md. on Dec. 20, 2009.

TEXT OF STORY

BOB MOON: If there's a theme for retailers this season, it's probably one about the hopes and fears of all the year's lost sales opportunities. For some businesses, in fact, it could all hinge on the past few days. The last weekend before Christmas is, after all, traditionally the biggest shopping weekend of the year. And on the East Coast, 60 million potential shoppers were digging themselves out of a record snow storm. But even though a lot of stores didn't get the crowds they hoped for this year, some businesses are happy when it snows. Jill Barshay reports.


JILL BARSHAY: Instead of sledding, it seems a lot of snowed-in Americans were clicking away on the Internet. Internet sales on Friday and Saturday were 24 percent higher than the same pre-Christmas weekend last year. That's according to sales data from 500 major retailers tabulated by Coremetrics. Sunday's are not yet available.

John Squire is their chief strategy officer.

JOHN Squire: The snow storms didn't shut down the Internet. They didn't shut down the roads to the Internet. It made it easier for customers and consumers to get out and see what was available and make some of their last minute purchasing.

But Internet shopping is still a drop in the retail bucket, and it's not clear how merchants are going to make up for the lost snowy shopping days. Macy's says it was already planning extended hours and promotions for the final days of this week and isn't going to do anything more.

Two out of five people still have gifts left to buy, according to the latest survey conducted over the weekend by America's Research Group.

Britt Beemer is the CEO. He says these procrastinators weren't scrambling online or planning to trudge out in the slush this week.

BRITT Beemer: Consumers were wanting to see 60 and 70 percent off. They didn't see it. So I think what you're going to see is you're going to see a lot of people stuff cash in an envelope and say, this is going to be Christmas.

That cash could come in handy when the post-Christmas sales come. But Beemer says last year most people spent cash gifts on bills and groceries.

In New York, I'm Jill Barshay for Marketplace.

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