Making it rain: How retailers can use the weather to their advantage

After the economy, the weather is the biggest influence on consumer behaviour according to the British Retail Consortium. It alters consumer preferences; meaning that the products that people want and the way that they shop changes due to fluctuations in temperature. This isn't as simple as an increase in ice cream sales on holiday or umbrellas when it's raining, the effect of the weather is far more pervasive, and even slight changes can alter consumer preferences.

If retailers aren’t aware of these differences caused by the weather, then there can be real-world costs to their business. Take the infamous ‘Beast from the East’ that swept across the UK in 2018. The phenomenon caused March retail sales to drop by  1.2% compared with February. While the ‘Beast from the East’ is an extreme example of how the adverse conditions impact the high street, retailers need to be aware so they can keep stock at appropriate levels, have the right kind of products in the store, and ensure advertising and engagement is contextually relevant to consumers.

This level of preparation isn’t new to retailers. They have always prepared for annual events such as Christmas, Black Friday or even Valentines’ Day, by adapting stock levels accordingly and ensuring product line reflects consumer needs. The difference with the weather is it isn’t straightforward to plan for as sudden fluctuations can mean that consumer preferences are altered dramatically. In other words, a downpour of rain on an otherwise sunny day could mean that consumers are less likely to purchase summer products such as sunscreen and sunglasses.

With the use of data, retailers can be prepared for changes in the weather and related environmental factors, like pollen or flu. Therefore anticipating the needs of consumers via a holistic approach to advertising, marketing, and product recommendations, in the event of a sudden rain cloud. Most retailers with global operations will understand it is not spring-summer season everywhere, but product recommendations are still based on searching by gender, size, and colour, as opposed to relevance to any given individual, in the moments that matter. What is this data and how can retailers practically use it to their advantage?

Using data to your advantage

Retailers have an abundance of owned data at their disposal. From details of previous purchases to location data, retailers can use all sorts of data points to their advantage, in real time. However, in preparing and reacting to the weather, the most critical aspect of any data-led strategy is the connectivity to their existing ecosystem partners. Retailers need to know the current climate in a given location, or if a user currently browsing their app or website, and immediately understand how the weather fluctuations can impact consumer behaviours. This means targeting ads, marketing automation, and delivering product recommendations associated with sunny and mild weather compared to sunny and warm weather.

Analytics are an essential way of guiding future strategies. By mapping historical data from weather + location + purchases, retailers can understand how consumers have previously reacted to fluctuations in the weather. Enabling retailers to form engagement, personalisation and stock strategies by referring back to previous instances. However, with consumer patterns moving increasingly online due to the likes of Amazon, historical data alone isn’t enough. Retailers need to also pair historical data with the use of AI and real-time technology. By incorporating both historical and real-time data, retailers can anticipate shoppers’ needs before, during and after every weather period. This is especially important for date-sensitive products such as dairy and baked goods, which are already among the most challenging to manage for daily forecasting, but also for fashion wanting to be relevant to a consumers’ current mindset.

In practical terms, the use of real-time weather data means that consumers receive a better experience with retailers, whether in-store or online. This, in turn, is an effective method to increase sales as retailers are tapping into what consumers want at that given time.

Retailers need to understand how to use the weather to their advantage, and the weather is just one piece of human context. One thing is certain, all retailers and their competitors know they must improve in relevance, in-turn conversions, by understanding what consumers want, in any given moment.