Retailers hope for a cool autumn

Is a cool wind about to blow in favor of retailers?

"Unfavorable weather conditions negatively impacted sales" is a phrase often used by retailers trying to explain away weaker-than-expected sales results. And while it seems like just an excuse to mask other issues, sometimes there is validity to the reasoning.

This summer, a number of retailers and analysts blamed tepid sales and traffic over the early summer weeks on an unusually cooler and wetter late spring and early summer. For some, the weather truly could have been a headwind.

Retailers set their inventories months ahead, so when atypical weather occurs, seasonal merchandise can sit on shelves until prices are slashed. "Good weather" means higher margins for retailers, and happier shareholders.

But weather patterns change, and a cool August may provide retailers with a tailwind heading into fall (though retailers are less likely to give credit where credit is due when the scenario is reversed).

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"I think cool weather does drive a mindset towards back-to-school, and I think it actually will be beneficial to back-to-school sales, even though back-to-school sales aren't directly weather impacted," said Paul Walsh, vice president of weather analytics for The Weather Channel.

Particularly in the eastern half of the country, August has been cooler than the historical average, and that could be a catalyst for consumers to start buying that fall apparel.

"All of the sudden, when we are waking up in the morning and have to put on a sweatshirt, and it's early August, that translates into people thinking that they need to start getting ready for back-to-school," said Walsh.

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Which could mean, all hope is not lost for retailers who have yet to move much fall merchandise. In fact, many analysts believe consumers are waiting, and buying closer to need, when it comes to those sweaters, jackets and boots.

Back-to-school shopping at a Target store in Chicago.
Getty Images
Back-to-school shopping at a Target store in Chicago.

The Weather Channel's analytics team expects the fall weather will be more typical of historical patterns than last year, when the hottest summer in 110 years extended into a warmer-than-average autumn.

Retailers and consumers along the East Coast later were dealt Super Storm Sandy's blow.

The combination weighed on sales for many retailers, but last year's weak results will set a lower bar for retailers to grow same-store sales this year.

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The biggest beneficiaries of a "normal" fall could be retailers like the Gap, Macy's and Kohl's, which are heavily dependent on apparel sales.

Off-mall department store Kohl's might especially need a cool fall. Most of its sales come from stores in the Midwest and Northeast, regions that saw particularly unfavorable summer weather. Company executives may just use that weather line again when earnings are released on Thursday.

—By CNBC's Courtney Reagan. Follow her on Twitter @CourtReagan.