Outdoor apparel and footwear business Columbia Sportswear lowered its fourth quarter sales and earnings forecasts, blaming reduced customer traffic and mild weather.

After forecasting sales growth of up to 1.5% in October, Columbia now expects net sales to fall 5% to US$499-503m in the three months to 31 December.

Gross margins are expected to decline 120-130 basis points to 41.2-41.3%, well above previous forecasts of a 50-75 point fall.

Net income, however, is still expected to be slightly up on last year at $37-40m, thanks to a lower than expected income tax rate, but down on the previous estimate of $44m.

Columbia blamed the downgrade on mild winter weather in North America, consumer caution and reduced retail traffic, as well as a more promotional environment.

The company also pointed to lower-than-expected direct sales, higher order cancellations, fewer wholesale reorders and a timing shift in shipments.