Retailers Capitalize on Hurricane Sandy Too Soon

On Monday evening, as a portion of the country declared a state of emergency, American Apparel declared a major sale. The retailer sent an email blast with a map highlighting the states hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy and offered online shoppers in those areas a "SandySale" discount code.

As if anyone in those nine states--
Connecticut,Delaware, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland--were bargain-hunting for spandex. The opportunistic moment sparked a serious backlash on Twitter. "Sandy Sale email blast? Really? The lowest of low," wrote one Twitter user, as others called for a company boycott.

As one of the worst weather disasters in recent history tore through the East Coast on Monday, major retailers seemed more concerned with customers' wallets than their well-being. Sprinkled between the news alerts, safety warnings and personal updates on Twitter, were totally ridiculous reminders from clothing retailers to shop, shop the storm away!

If you're signed up for Urban Outfitters' newsletter, you probably received an email Monday morning with the subject line: "This storm blows (but guess what doesn't)..."

For those to bust evacuating homes to read the mass email, here's what they missed: Free Shipping. Free Shipping, which Urban Outfitters is offering all Monday, doesn't "blow" nearly as much as the largest storm to hit the East Coast in a century. By mid-day Monday, even the company's in-house blogger had logged off and taken shelter leaving behind a picture of Frankenstein emerging from the ocean and a message that basically said "see ya."

Comedian Ana Gasteyer noticed influx of unnecessary brand bombardment on Monday. She sarcastically tweeted :
"I'd like to thank @ Costco @ OldNavy and @ jcrew for their frequent Emails during this stressful time. # Sandy "
She forgot Anthrolpologie, a brand that poorly masked opportunism with awareness on Twitter. "Thinking happy thoughts-like a new catalog & free shipping on US orders of $100+ with code AUTUMN."

Insensitive? Absolutely. Tacky? For sure. But retailers may have been acting on their own "Frankenstorm" panic. Store closures and the threat of potentially damaged merchandise just as the holiday shopping season approaches, could mean up to 3 percent in overall profit losses, according to a new report.

Add to it the fact that consumers are stocking up on supplies rather than tank tops and you've got a perfect storm for retailers. "American Eagle Outfitters, Limited Brands and Urban Outfitters are among the companies with the highest percentages of their stores affected by the storm," according to Oliver Chen, an analyst at Citigroup, who spoke to Bloomberg News on Monday.

By Chen's estimations the hurricane could also reduce online traffic for retailers by 40 percent during November's first week due to customers' more pressing issues (re: power and internet outages, unexpected home repairs, general uprooting). So brands were using precious pre-evacuation moments to get their customers shopping. Unfortunately they were also clogging social networks with some deeply inappropriate updates.

Gap, the brand, checked in via Foursquare to the "Frankenstorm Apocalypse" with plans to spend the hurricane doing "lots of shopping." (Never mind the logic there.)

Just a few Twitter 'blocks' before New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's alert for city-dwellers to steer clear of windows as the winds rage, Barney's, the luxury department store headquartered in Manhattan, issued their own warning.

"Word of the Day: Hunker. We recommend browsing and staying inside."

Thanks for the tip.