Snowstorms, Power Outages, Frigid Temperatures Impacting Retailers and Consumers in the U.S.

With more than 100 million residents in the U.S. dealing with winter storm warnings or watches, retailers continued to shutter stores and deal with delayed shipments.

After days of winter conditions, more snow, sleet and ice was forecast Wednesday for the Southeast. The system is expected to track into the Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast U.S. from Thursday into Friday, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures are expected to hover well below freezing throughout the Plains, Mississippi Valley and the lower Great Lakes. Heading into the weekend, snow is forecast from Kentucky to New England.

Retailers through the South and Heartland continued to be stymied by this week’s winter storm, though some retailers like Walmart and CVS Pharmacy have been able to reopen select locations that had been closed Tuesday. More than three million residents in Texas were still without power Wednesday. And in the Carolinas, Duke Energy projected that nearly one million inhabitants may face power outages starting Saturday — with some lasting for several days — due to the forecast high winds and approaching storm. While millions were already hunkering down at home, others found another incentive to do so. The wintry, and in some cases hazardous, driving conditions continue to inhibit shoppers from visiting stores.

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Deliveries, which have already been waylaid by the upsurge in online sales brought on by the pandemic, are also being impacted by the storm. Some online shoppers will find delayed delivery notices when buying online. Just as stores have been affected by the storms stretching across parts of the country, so too have shipments in some instances. CVS Pharmacy is rerouting people who have scheduled appointments for COVID-19 vaccines at stores that have been closed. They will be contacted with a new appointment time or instructions to reschedule  when appointments become available, a CVS Health spokesman said.

Texas and several other states were hit hardest by the storm and frigid temperatures that blew in from the Pacific Northwest, leading to power outages and dangerously icy road conditions, and forcing families without heat to find shelter.

In Texas, where more snow arrived Tuesday night, millions of people have been without power at one point or another. Aside from Texas, stores were also forced to close in such states as Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

At J.C. Penney Co. as of late Wednesday morning, “The number of store closures and stores with reduced hours is changing by the day and hour, but so far today we have 26 stores closed across multiple states that are having winter weather,” a spokeswoman told WWD. Shipping (and deliveries) will be delayed due to store closures and inclement weather at our fulfillment centers.” Due to COVID-19, Penney’s vacated its Plano, Texas, headquarters and the home office associates continue to work from their homes.

At the Neiman Marcus Group, all seven of the Neiman Marcus luxury department stores in Texas remained closed on Wednesday, as did its three distribution centers in Texas. “We had more snow overnight and power is still not largely available,” said Amber Seikaly, vice president of corporate communications. NMG’s two Last Call stores in Texas also remained closed. The company said online shopping was not affected.

By Wednesday afternoon, Walmart indicated that 301 stores, including Walmart, Walmart Super Center and groceries, were still closed due to the storm, compared to the 455 locations that were closed 24 hours earlier. The retailer indicated that it will monitor the needs of individual stores and will dispatch additional support as needed, though it is not yet clear what the impact will be on deliveries.

Tracking the storms in real-time, Walmart had activated its emergency operations center in the company’s home office to support workers in the field. The center allows the company to work directly with logistics, store operations and other teams within the business to align support plans, a Walmart representative said in a statement. “Our priority continues to be the safety of our associates and customers — taking care of them and their families.”

”We’re staying closely connected to our operators in the field to help ensure we’re stocking the appropriate items and keeping track of shipments to deliver for our customers. We have emergency support teams dedicated to helping our stores during critical events and our merchandising, replenishment, supply chains and logistic teams are working to have critical supplies and products in stores as quickly as possible,” Walmart said in a statement.

While health and safety of Amazon’s employees, customers and drivers, who deliver packages, are paramount, the company continues to monitor weather reports and the progress of the storm, according to an Amazon spokesperson. “Out of an abundance of caution and to ensure everyone’s safety, we have closed some of our sites in Arkansas, Illinois, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas,” the Amazon spokesperson said.

Like other major businesses, Amazon is monitoring the weather and following the recommendations of local authorities regarding when sites in impacted areas should close and reopen. All Amazon employees are being paid for their scheduled shift. Consumers in the affected regions may see delayed delivery promises upon checkout online at Amazon. To a lesser degree, customers outside of the storm-ridden areas may also see delayed delivery promises in the event the product that is being ordered will be shipped from a location that is in the projected path of the storm.

As of Wednesday afternoon, CVS Pharmacy had closed about 600 stores, which was an improvement compared to the 775 locations that were temporarily shuttered on Tuesday. Most of the current closures are in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, although there are outposts in other states as well. A CVS Health spokesman said, “Our emergency response team is working around the clock to monitor all business impacts and ensure the safety of our colleagues, and the continued delivery of products, services and care to our customers, members and patients. We are also working with our partner carriers to ensure shipments arrive at their final destination as quickly as possible.”

In Chicago, members of the Magnificent Mile Association have been receiving daily alerts via GroupMe, which the organization receives from Chicago’s office of emergency management. The nearly 200 businesses and stakeholders on this text thread are also communicating in real time, sharing updates about commutes in and out of the city, as well as other relevant weather-related information. As of Wednesday, luxury boutiques represented the largest contingency of late openings, and early or full-day closings, according to a spokesman for the Magnificent Mile Association.

Gap Inc. has also closed stores. “Our number-one priority is the safety and well-being of our teams, customers and communities. As always, we are monitoring the situation closely and have contingency plans set in place to manage issues that may arise, including temporarily closing stores where there is a risk to our employees and customers, due to severe weather,” a Gap Inc. spokesperson said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Target had eight stores closed, primarily in Texas, due to power outages and poor road conditions. The Minneapolis-based chain had 10 locations shuttered 24 hours earlier. “We’ll reopen as soon as we safely can to serve guests in impacted areas,” a Target spokesperson said.

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