|A shopper is bundled up against the cold in New York. Retail sales cooled in one of the coldest Februarys on record. (Mark Lennihan/associated press)|
Retailers lower their forecasts
A cold February hurts demand for spring merchandise
NEW YORK -- The nation's retailers, once hopeful for a strong spring selling season, are being forced to ratchet down their expectations after sales stalled amid the chill of February.
Frigid weather stifled consumer demand for lightweight spring apparel. And some industry experts doubt that this season's fashions will have broad appeal.
Meanwhile, there's concern that consumers will finally turn frugal because of the housing market's continuing slump, and that last week's stock market tumble might also cause shoppers to be more conservative. And then there's higher gasoline prices.
Retailers are scheduled today to report February sales from stores open at least a year, but several chains, including Limited Brands Inc., J.C. Penney Co. and Talbots Inc., have already warned of disappointing results. Same-store sales are considered the best measure of a retailer's strength.
Besides dealing with broad economic issues, merchants were grappling with one of the coldest Februarys on record. Limited said inclement weather affected sales for Valentine's Day at its Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works chains.
The cold also wiped out demand for spring clothes, and, because retailers had done a good job clearing out winter merchandise during a strong January sales period, there was little for shoppers to buy.
"It's cold, and Lord knows I don't want to be schlepping around to stores," said Jenny Fishman, of New York, who has bought only some shoes over the past few weeks.
The International Council of Shopping Centers is still sticking with its modest same-store sales growth forecast of 2.5 to 3 percent, but Michael P. Niemira, ICSC's chief , said the weather slowed consumer demand .
While February is one of the least important months of a retailer's calendar, merchants do hope to get some idea of which spring fashion trends are resonating with shoppers.