Folks are starting to speculate about whether September chain-store sales can be seen as a barometer of how Christmas holiday sales will ring in.
But there's another gauge that may influence the actual monthly retail sales reports: the thermometer.
Last month was the coolest on record in three years, and the autumn chill in the air likely helped spur demand for seasonal items such as apparel, according to research from Atmospheric and Environmental Research, a Boston-based firm that analyzes the impact of climate change on business operations.
September tends to be a funny month for retailers. Back-to-school buying is usually completed, and there aren't any major holidays or other events to get consumers in the buying mood. However, the chilly temperatures may have forced consumers out to the store to buy new jackets and sweaters.
- Retail Sales May Gain Ground in September
"So far, from a retailer perspective, Mother Nature is doing her job," says Paul Walsh, a senior vice president at AER.
AER estimates 25 percent of the year-over-year retail sales change in September is driven by the impact of temperature.
For some retailers, the impact is much larger. For example, about 75 percent of the change in September sales over the past few years at Kohl's has been linked to weather, according to AER's research.
That number is tied to a number of factors, including the mix of products the retailer sells as well as the consumer, who shops there.
At high-end department store JW Nordstrom, about 39 percent of the year-over-year change in sales is tied to weather.
In addition to Kohl's, the companies with the most to gain in September as the mercury drops include:TJX, Children's Place , Abercrombie & Fitch, and Macy's, according to AER.
What's more, it looks like retailers have the wind at their backs, so to speak. The seasonally brisk temperatures have continued so far in October and are likely to help maintain weather-driven sales in October, AER says.
But the stronger weather-driven sales in September and October could short-change sales in the November and December time-frame, Walsh says.
The group is forecasting that winter will be warmer this year than a year ago. That relative warmth may be favorable for store traffic, but it might not inspire sales of seasonal items, according to Walsh.
Overall, retail industry analysts are feeling more optimistic about September same-store sales results, due out Thursday morning. But some analysts warn the good vibes may be short-lived.
UBS analyst Roxanne Meyer says retailers will be helped by broad-based improvement given Labor Day's shift and easier comparisons, especially among more discretionary names.
"Given recent data on consumer confidence and unemployment, we don't view September as necessarily indicative of a go-forward run rate and could provide a false sense of optimism near-term," Meyer says.
Meyer expects Aeropostale and Gap's Old Navy unit to be stand-outs in the specialty retail space.
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