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#Business : Will snow, ice, frigid temps alter holiday shopping plans?

Will snow, ice, frigid temps alter holiday shopping plans?

The biggest shopping weekend of the holiday season is approaching and shoppers face a frigid forecast filled with more snow and ice.

While suburban retailers are doing what they can to keep sidewalks and parking lots clear, how shoppers will react to the weather is unknown. Mall and store owners believe eager shoppers will brave the harsh elements in what is considered the biggest shopping weekend before Christmas. But retail experts think otherwise and predict harsh weather could push more shoppers to shop online and pay extra for express shipping.

Snow is expected to start Friday with sleet or freezing rain following Saturday morning, changing to snow later in the day. Snow showers are expected again Sunday with wind chills reaching 20 degrees below zero.

"We're optimistic we'll do well this season," said Randy Ebertowski, general manager of Gurnee Mills."After all, we're Midwesterners and we're a hearty folk. We're used to this."

He says he has another worry. "I'm actually more concerned about the Packers-Bears football game on Sunday slowing down the shoppers than I am about the weather," Ebertowski said.

Retail experts may have a more realistic outlook. Bricks-and-mortar stores will suffer this weekend, said David Aron of Naperville, a marketing professor at the Brennan School of Business at Dominican University in River Forest.

"More consumer needs can be met by online vendors," Aron said. "There will likely be a rush to the stores, trying to beat the bad weather or find a window of bearable temperatures between really bad days. Remember the rush on grocery stores before last week's huge snowfall? We had lines all the way from the registers to the dairy sections."

Snow combined with ice won't help retailers, agrees Anne Brouwer, senior partner and retail analyst at McMillanDoolittle LLP in Chicago.

"People are less likely to brave the roads if it's snowing," Brouwer said. "But they're more likely to brave the cold and go to an indoor mall. ... Most retailers may see Dec. 23 as the biggest day if this bad weather hits this weekend."

Some retailers, including Macy's and Sears, actually see the snowy weather as a plus.

"Although the frigid temps, ice and snowstorms can make any outing or errand a bit more challenging, we can be assured that at this time of year, less than 10 days before Christmas, we will see customers completing their gift lists in our stores," said Macy's spokeswoman Andrea Schwartz.

Sears, which has been struggling in recent years, expects to see strong demand for its Craftsman snowblowers, heavy coats, sweaters, boots and other winter gear as gifts or for the shoppers themselves, said Sears Chief Marketing Officer Gerry Murphy.

"Mother Nature sometimes provides advertising that no money can buy," Murphy said. "Sears is known for carrying a broad assortment of everything you need for your home. So when frigid temperatures or snowstorms arrive, there are clear winners in certain product categories."
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