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Brands Target the Homebound and Blizzard-Bored With Flash Sales

The snow didn't really add up, but maybe the orders will

Where have all the shoppers gone? Home. Photo: Getty Images

Even though the snowstorm that was supposed to have been the Blizzard of the Century turned out to be little more than an annoyance for many people in the Northeast, it's turned into an opportunity for a few quick-thinking brands. Old Navy, L'Occitane and Cole Haan are among the retailers using the storm as an excuse to have today-only online sales.

Shoppers can get 30 percent off clothing at Old Navy until 3:00 p.m. today and 20 percent off until midnight. A Cole Haan email blast this morning announced a "Snowed-In 24-Hour Sale," with an extra 40 percent off outerwear and boots. Not to be outdone, L'Occitane sent out an email asking: "Snowed in? 6 Hour Online Sale Starts Now!" The upscale purveyor of bath and body products is offering as much as a 50 percent discount on seasonal merchandise like cherry blossom shampoo and frisson verbena bath salts.

"The way that brands can turn on a dime just shows you how far a lot of them have evolved with social media and email blasts, moving quickly and in a targeted way," said Bruce Winder, a senior advisor with global retail consultancy J.C. Williams Group. "Smart companies are putting themselves in the shoes of consumers—who are home today, bored and surfing the web."

Indeed they are. Even though the Blizzard That Wasn't left just a few inches of snow on the ground in much of the Northeast—not the two feet or more that was forecast—an estimated 60 million people (20 percent of the American population) could be sitting at home right now. And the combination of boredom and disposable income has long been the lifeblood of online retail.

But Martyn Tipping, CEO of branding and social media intelligence firm Brand Chorus, sounds a note of caution about these online quickie offers.

"In theory, there's nothing wrong with brands offering limited-time 'White Tuesday' sales," Tipping said. "However, brands should be careful during a time like this. People 
in New Jersey and New York City might be open to some online shopping today, but if you're still being blasted by snow and wind in New England, saving an extra 20 percent 
on winter clearance items may not be your top priority. The last thing 
any brand wants to do is to be seen as taking advantage."

Winder agreed: "It's a risky situation since you have to watch out that you're not taking advantage of something that's been a misfortune for people."

Another factor that might not play in retailers' favor: Today's storm arrived in the Northeast about the same time that holiday credit card bills arrived in many mailboxes. "Digging out of the snow and credit card debt may, in the end, be more important than snagging another bargain," Tipping said.

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