By Kelli B. Grant
With meteorologists predicting the worst heat wave in 16 years, stores are rolling out “heat wave” sales to draw you out of your air-conditioned homes, or at least get you to spend more money online.
Spending abruptly drops off as the heat picks up and people opt to stay home in front of the air conditioner, says Scott Bernhardt, the chief operating officer for Planalytics, a research firm that studies weather and business. “The effect of a heat wave is similar to having a big snowstorm,” he says. Yes, you’ll see a few adventurers making their way to the mall or movies, but not many. “It’s not just hot, it’s ridiculously hot,” he says. “No one wants to sit in the hot car for as long as it takes to let the air conditioning kick in.” That translates to a lot of lost business for retailers and can be especially painful to service-based businesses like spas and restaurants, which can’t make up for lost appointments and tables.
And so, expect an inbox full of sales, many of them pegged to the heat in the same way you’ll see “snowed in” deals seen after a big storm, Bernhardt says. Local businesses, meanwhile, may offer special deals to lure you out. T-shirt site Seventh.Ink, based in Tampa, Fla. (where it’s expected to hit 96 today), offered 20% off purchases with code “heatwave,” while Cobblestone Gardens & Market in Bloomington, Minn. (high of 88), is offering a “Heatwave Sale” of 70% off flowering tropicals and 25% off perennials through Friday. And Lion Brand Yarn Studio in New York (high of 100) said earlier this year that it would offer 10% discounts when the temperature hits 90 degrees, 15% when it’s 95 and 20% when it’s 100.
Of course, some stores see an uptick. Grocery stores see an uptick in sales as people prepare for the heat, many of them stocking up on bottled water and sports drinks to stay hydrated, as well as cold treats like ice cream. Hunt for coupons and review store circulars to maximize your savings, say experts. Fans and portable air conditioners may be tough to find, too. Look online for store pick-up options, or otherwise call the store to have a unit set aside for you.
Heat waves also tend to have long-term effects on consumer spending. With the air conditioner running ’round the clock for several days, consumers can expect a bigger-than-usual electric bill come August — just in time for back-to-school shopping. The National Retail Federation projections released today already estimate flat sales, with parents spending an average $604 on apparel, supplies and gadgets for kids in grades K-12. That’s $2 less than last year, and shows that few consumers are buying without a good sale, says NRF chief executive Matthew Shay. A prolonged heat could reinforce that, Bernhardt says, and force retailer to offer better sales in response.