While social media and the Internet inarguably kept the
world up to date on Hurricane Sandy’s effects, in the face of disaster retailers
are showing they’re serving as the heart of their communities.

Sandy caused mass stores to lose millions of dollars in Halloween sales, as many
kept their doors closed for as long as a week due to power outages, lack of
running water and overall destruction. It’s estimated some 10 percent of chain
stores were directly in Sandy’s path.

But the
community feeling that retailers often bring to shoppers may be the only silver
lining from what’s being hailed as the Storm of the Century: During this time
of crisis, people are looking to see other people, to talk about the storm and
to try to regain some sense of normalcy. Consumers began swarming stores in the
days following Sandy for everything from water to just a place to warm up.
Target set up tables and chairs for people to charge electrical gadgets, as did
a 7-11 on lower Fifth Avenue, which surprisingly dodged electrical
failure.The Bridgewater Shopping center
in New Jersey re-opened five days after Sandy hit the mid-Atlantic coastline to
throngs of people charging telephones at available outlets and riding the Wi-Fi
offered throughout the mall. Drug stores earmarked monies to be donated to
those in need. It’s revealing how at a time when retailers are struggling to grow
e-commerce, they discovered how their stores can provide a sense of community,
especially when disaster strikes.

There’s no
denying Sandy sapped sales. Burt Flickinger III of the retail consultancy
Strategic Resource Group, said retail stores, excluding restaurants, could miss
out on $25 billion in sales from the week of the storm. He cut his holiday
forecast from gains of 3.2 percent to 2.1 percent.

Haynes, vice president of retail sales at e.l.f. said that at least for the
next few weeks, beauty won’t be top of mind as Americans shell out for the essentials
to survive the aftermath of the storm. This shift in spending comes at the same
time as retailers now putting holiday merchandise in stores out to spark the buying
mood. At a recent store tour, Rite Aid had Christmas makeup prepacks on display
and holiday fragrances already set up. Target has full trim-a-tree shops

But while
consumers may not have their holiday shopping lists written, the consensus is
that people will feel compelled to buy in a month or so when holiday shopping
kicks into high gear. Beauty items are expected to be among the most selected
for an “inexpensive pick me up,” said several executives of both retail and manufacturing
firms. “You can’t afford a new necklace,
but you can get a new fragrance,” summed up one buyer.

At the same
time, Internet retailers have to iron out shipping backups caused by the storm.

“It is too
early to decide how Christmas will be,” said one chain executive. “It depends
on when life gets back to normal.”E.l.f.’s
Shawn thinks consumers will put some of the pain behind them and come out
strong for holiday, especially for value beauty. Barry Shields, managing
partner for the Innovative Beauty Group, said the next four to eight weeks will
be down in sales, but in the end consumers will gravitate toward “cost
effective” beauty. The goodwill built
after the storm, retailers concluded, will deliver sales for the holiday.