This December’s freakishly warm weather is hurting winter apparel sales at L.L. Bean.
The Freeport-based retailer usually enjoys a boost in sales of winter gear before, during or after a major snowfall.
But a string of above-normal temperatures in December has had the opposite effect. Sales of heavy winter outerwear have tumbled, said company spokeswoman Carolyn Beem.
“We, like all retailers, are taking a hit because of the weather,” she said, declining to disclose revenue details.
At Bean, the warm weather seems to be affecting only apparel sales. Other traditional winter gear such as toboggans and snow tubes are selling well, she said.
Nationally, the warm weather has caused specialty apparel stores to lose $421 million in sales from Nov. 1 to Dec. 19 compared to the same period last year, according to Planalytics, a weather intelligence firm that works with about 250 retailers to plan for weather changes. Overall, it says outerwear sales nationally are down 10 percent.
Analysts have blamed the warm weather for disappointing sales at Macy’s, Nordstrom and J.Crew.
The average monthly temperature in Portland so far this December has been 8.5 degrees above normal. A huge portion of the nation is seeing similar above-normal temperatures, from Maine to the Gulf states and westward to the Great Plains, said Eric Schwibs, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Gray.
He said the strong El Nino system in the Pacific has pushed the jet stream northward, effectively blocking cold air in Canada from flowing into the United States.
“If you keep all the cold air bottled up north, you will be abnormally warm,” he said.
Consumers are shunning more than down jackets, said Jaclyn Stratten, marketing manager at Planaytics. Sales of sweaters and even long-sleeve knits are also down, she said.
“Any apparel retailer is really struggling,” she said.
She said consumers are spending their money instead on jewelry, electronics and toys.
Curtis Picard, executive director of the Retail Association of Maine, said Maine retailers have told him that sales of winter coats and boots are down.
The sales slump, he said, means, consumers can get some good deals. Retailers after the holidays will likely lower prices to reduce inventory and create room for the arrival of spring merchandise.
Macy’s already has said it plans to offer discounts for its winter inventory.
The warm weather is welcomed by many retailers because it makes it easier for consumers to shop. In December 2013, two weekends of wintry weather kept many would-be shoppers off the roads and out of stores. When the weather is bad, Picard said, consumers are more likely to stay home and order online.
There is one exception to the winter fashion doldrums at L.L.Bean. The lack of snow this year hasn’t curbed the demand for its iconic leather and rubber-soled boots. The company has a backlog of over 50,000 boots.