(Corrects 4th paragraph to say the size of GrubHub orders rose 45 percent. Also adds graphic)
By Jilian Mincer
NEW YORK, March 6 (Reuters) - U.S. consumers battered by the wretched winter weather still afflicting much of the eastern half of the country have responded by ordering in rather than eating out, flying more frequently to Florida and cutting out trips to the mall, according to a Reuters review of company data.
Cities ranging from Chicago to Bangor, Maine, set all time records for the lowest February temperatures. Boston got more than 100 inches of snow, crippling mass transit and prompting the system’s head to quit. Lexington, Kentucky, is covered in more than 20 inches of snow, the result of the biggest snowstorm since 1943. In Miami, it was 83 under sunny skies on Thursday.
Still, it’s not all misery, all the time. While the relentless weather has dented traffic and sales for restaurants and mall retailers and frustrated delivery firms like United Parcel Service Inc and FedEx Corp, it’s increased sales of snow shovels and rock salt from local hardware stores as well as Home Depot Inc and Lowe’s Cos .
“Cold is like gold,” said Matthew Maloney, the chief executive of online meal delivery service GrubHub Inc , based in Chicago and New York and affiliated with about 30,000 restaurants. In the afternoon before winter storm Juno hit the Northeast at the end of January, the size of GrubHub’s orders rose 45 percent, with cheese pizza and hot chocolate orders more than doubling, according to company data provided to Reuters.
If and when the weather gets nicer, the home improvement stores will look forward to customers looking to fix damaged lawns, gardens and siding. Carmakers, who posted disappointing February sales, could rebound if consumers opt to replace less reliable or damaged vehicles. Clothing stores may languish further if temperatures don’t rise soon enough to persuade shoppers it’s time to buy spring apparel.
“If people look outside and see walls of snow, they’re not going to buy a t-shirt,” said Simeon Siegel, an analyst at Nomura.
February shopper traffic in the U.S. fell 12.5 percent compared with same month last year, and sales overall fell 10.4 percent, according to RetailNext, a research firm.
The decline could have been worse if more of the storms occurred on the weekends because that’s when shoppers restock groceries and visit the malls, analysts said.
At Amazon.com, the top sellers on Thursday included humidifiers, snow melt products and a $19.99 device called the Paw Plunger, used to clean Fido’s paws, the company said.
Some restaurants will make up for lost sales through deliveries, but not everyone offers those services, and employees working from home because of the weather won’t eat out either, said Chris G. Christopher, a global economist at IHS Consumer Markets in Boston.
“People are also skipping dates and family dining at restaurants,” he said.
Some Americans sought warmer surroundings. While online travel bookings rose 3 percent in January compared with last year, reservations for travel to the U.S. southeast, including Florida, soared 24 percent, according to internal data provided by the U.S. Travel Association. Did we mention, it’s 83 in Miami? (Reporting By Jilian Mincer. Editing by Michele Gershberg and John Pickering)