Retail and weather go together

Photo: RetailWire
Jan 02, 2018

Record-breaking snowfalls and frigid temperatures across the Plains, Great Lakes and Northeast are expected to depress in-store traffic, but may also help move remaining cold-weather clearance items off selling floors.

The “complex and nuanced” ways weather can influence sales were explored in a National Retail Federation and Planalytics’ report, “5 Myths About the Weather & Its Impact on Retail.”

  • Myth 1: You can’t plan for the weather:  Heat waves, snow storms, cold snaps, etc. can now be forecasted in advance. While planning decisions are often set weeks or months in advance, retailers and suppliers can make nearer-term adjustments to inventory, supply chain operations, labor scheduling and marketing.
  • Myth 2: It all evens out in the end: Timing, location, strength and duration of favorable or unfavorable weather make a big difference. Cold weather’s arrival, for instance, provides a much bigger lift to coat sales and their profitability if it occurs in November versus January. While the weekly grocery stock-up is often made a day or two later, an individual avoiding buying a cup of coffee due to lousy weather isn’t going to purchase two the following day. For DIY retailers, the arrival of warm weather in May or June is too late for many households to tackle certain outdoor projects.
  • Myth 3: Consumers will shop during the holidays, regardless of the weather: Similar to Myth 2, cold weather arriving early in the holiday season helps drive full-price boot and outerwear sales and allows retailers to avoid earlier and/or steeper markdowns.
  • Myth 4: My products aren’t seasonal, so the weather doesn’t affect me: Many non-seasonal products can be affected by weather. Cooler weather props up coffee sales. Favorable weather in January has proven to drive jewelry sales ahead of Valentine’s Day. Also, any boost in store traffic for more weather-dependent categories often leads to consumers picking up other items.
  • Myth 5: I’m an online retailer — the weather doesn’t impact me: Extreme events or just rainy weather can drive consumers to stay indoors and drive spikes in website traffic. Sunny days tend to drive in-store traffic. Online brand-specific messages can be tailored to weather conditions (i.e., boots when it’s snowing).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Which of the myths listed are most detrimental to retail planning?What’s your general advice on adjusting to weather conditions, whether for big stores or independents?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Just as a wise person will carry an umbrella even on a clear day, a wise retailer will plan for the inevitable shifts and fluctuations in the weather."
"The growing trend of preppers/survivalists has seen more people getting ready for extreme weather than ever before."
"If you sell seasonal product then watch the calendar and keep a trigger finger over that markdown button."

Join the Discussion!

19 Comments on "Retail and weather go together"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Mark Ryski

There’s no question that the weather impacts retail business, but exactly how will vary tremendously based on the type of retailer. I think the biggest myth is that retailers can’t plan for the weather. In our experience of tracking store traffic, we see patterns that fairly reliably recur based on weather conditions. Retailers who measure store traffic and understand how traffic changes based on forecasted weather can indeed make adjustments to improve results despite the weather. For example, cold and snowy weather tends to depress store traffic, but in-store conversion rates tend to spike since the shoppers who do venture out are highly motivated to purchase. Knowing this, retailers can focus their staff resources on processing transactions and re-deploy some of their excess staff to merchandising and other tasks. Retailers can’t control the weather but they can control what they do when weather happens.

Neil Saunders

With the climate becoming more erratic, it is more important than ever that retailers have a grip on weather patterns.

At an operational level, this means building tolerance into merchandise, sales and margin plans to account for weather variability.

In categories like apparel, shorter and quicker production runs can also help retailers respond better. Thanks to its integrated production, Zara is far more sensitive to weather changes than most fashion retailers, for example.

Just as a wise person will carry an umbrella even on a clear day, a wise retailer will have a plan for the inevitable shifts and fluctuations in the weather.

Cameron Conaway

YES to all of this, Neil. Retailers focused on predicting future weather trends can build the tolerance you mentioned, which cascades into just about every aspect of their business — including the development of meaningful customer intent models.

Charles Dimov

Regarding “Myth 3: Consumers will shop during the holidays, regardless of the weather.” Yes — true for things like boots, and winter clothing when the weather turns water to ice. However, modern retailers need to be prepared for shoppers and cater to their shopping methods. Encourage shoppers to come in-store as much as possible, but during cold snaps it is good to have a robust online commerce channel, m-commerce and voice commerce. Better yet — make sure you tie them all together so that you offer omni-channel commerce. Customers expect it, no matter the weather!

Peter Charness

The early or late arrival of a weather season certainly impacts sales as anyone familiar with cold weather-specific product will tell you. For instance, with winter boots or winter coats, if it hasn’t snowed by mid-December then that old coat can make it one more year … and new product in store languishes.

If the weather is too nice people don’t shop, they are outside enjoying it. And if it’s not too nice then people are not shopping either. It makes for a good set of Monday morning meeting excuses.

If you sell seasonal product then watch the calendar and keep a trigger finger over that markdown button.

Adrian Weidmann

Weather and retail have always been inextricably connected to one another. More than 70 percent of all goods in North America are moved via long-haul trucks. Any weather affecting traffic anywhere in North America will affect the supply chain. A retailer large or small can leverage simple, inexpensive digital signage and daily regional weather forecasts to present clever options and shopper messages to their customers.

Dick Seesel

You can and should plan for the weather, despite what “Myth 1” says. It may not be possible to project exactly where or when above- or below-average temperatures will hit (even using long-range forecasting tools), however it’s certainly possible to project total seasonal buys of categories like gloves, coats, etc. based on three-year or five-year averages. It’s a common mistake to base this year’s buy only on last year’s sales data — which may overstate or understate demand based on exceptionally strong or poor sales results.

It’s also critical for retailers operating nationally to be as flexible as possible about reordering and/or canceling goods, and using the tools at their disposal to make the smartest possible allocation decisions as close to need as possible.

Stuart Jackson

While it’s never going to be that easy to plan for the weather, I do think one of the key things many retailers forget is the power of merchandising — moving the stock around the store and changing window displays quickly to capitalize on the weather. Getting the right products in front of the customer at exactly the right time.

Stores are great at planning their window displays months in advance for the big holiday seasons. But the best retailers empower their managers and give them the flexibility to literally look outside the door, see that it’s raining or even snowing and pull all their wet-and cold-weather gear to the front immediately. It’s this adaptability that makes sales.

Joanna Rutter
4 years 6 months ago
I’m a mite biased — I work for Dor, which syncs conversion rates and weather predictions so retailers can plan staffing and marketing spend around forecasts — but I’ve got to say #1. One of my favorite weather and retail stats is from this study, which found that 88 percent of the variations in store revenue are due to weather. That’s almost every dollar above or below your average, and therefore can’t be ignored! It’s not just rain and snow, either. This summer Dor analyzed our foot traffic data around the eclipse in August and retailers in the path of totality. We found that over the eclipse weekend, stores within totality saw a 16 percent increase in visitor traffic, with August 21 outperforming historical Mondays by 19 percent, while retailers within driving distance of totality saw a 15 percent decrease in traffic. Planning ahead for weather-driven events both monumental and quotidian is crucial for retailers.(Our findings, if you’d like to read.) Regarding my general advice? Capture and analyze this data religiously. You can’t plan staffing… Read more »
Dave Nixon

In my experience, retailers will claim not to have the tools available to make more predictive and reactive promotional, merchandising and product assortment decisions based on weather. But they can! Many don’t even take into account the variability between store regions as it relates to weather, let alone adapt to the monthly or weekly (forget daily) weather impacts. It is costing retailers MILLIONS in not being more proactive with regards to weather across the full lifecycle, including the supply chain. Not just the retail sales aspects.

Jasmine Glasheen

The least known myth is #5, as many small to mid-size online retailers believe that their businesses are immune to weather-induced fluctuations in sales.

In addition to the above debunkments, I’d be interested to see how “extreme weather events” such as snowstorms or below-zero temperatures impact consumers in the Midwest, where a large portion of the year has the type of weather which would keep customers in other areas inside.

Global temperature fluctuations will become more extreme in the coming years, so retailers need to plan ahead and think creatively to create catchy, weather-based promotions which will incentivize customers to buy.

Peter Luff

Myth 1: You can’t plan for the weather, is the most detrimental to retail planning.

I agree that you cannot plan for every eventuality, but this does not condone no planning for the various weather types. There are only a few different weather types after all and the impact is generally only around the extremes. Like a business has a disaster recovery plan, it should have a weather play card. For example, on snowy days look at your historic traffic counting and plan what you can do with your resources during the day, knowing how much lower the in-store count is, maybe. You could, for instance, use some of your resources calling your regular customers at home or providing some more tailored sales services.

Jennifer McDermott

The growing trend of preppers/survivalists has seen more people getting ready for extreme weather than ever before. A recent survey we conducted here at indicated that 65.5 percent of Americans are spending money on survival gear.

Stores need to go beyond creating an immediate need to demonstrating a need for the future (but buy now!). This is a great opportunity for retailers that this fits as it creates year-round possibilities for things that previously may have only been seasonal.

Ralph Jacobson

With the long-range weather forecasting technologies available today, there is no longer any excuse for any online or offline retailer, regardless of product category, to miss the demand for a season. There is far less gut feel required and real-time inventory management for when the product hits the streets can make all the difference in the world, versus the massive discounts given in past years for overbuying, or running out of stock prematurely.

Craig Sundstrom

Myths 1 and 2 somewhat contradict each other (that is, if things truly “evened out” planning wouldn’t be so important; conversely, things DON’T all even out, so it’s somewhat true that you can’t plan … at least not completely).

I would list all of these under the category — and danger — of passivity: taking every challenge as “just the way it is,” which covers a whole range of retail issues from shrinkage to product obsolescence … and everything in between.

Molly Nichols

Saying you can’t plan for the weather is silly! Retailers need to stay on top of weather trends in order to plan store closures/employee scheduling as well as provide shoppers with exactly what they’re looking for.

My advice to independent retailers is to keep an eye on the weather, be aware of severe weather and take precautions. Depending on the weather, prep your store! If it’s extremely cold offer shoppers complimentary hot chocolate if it’s hot offer them lemonade. Small offerings and changes go a long way in communities.

Tony Orlando

Myth #1. With smart phones and 5-10 detailed weather forecasts, plus I live in the snow belt, it isn’t to difficult to try and plan on stocking up ahead on staples that our customers scramble for. The warnings of a foot of snow coming helps our business big time on the front end, and we lose it during, and the day after a big storm, as people simply can not get out of their driveways.

I look at projections for Fourth of July and other summer events, but with Lake Erie a mile away, it could rain almost anytime.

Running out of snow shovels for hardware stores isn’t very good, and restaurants need to reduce their supplies coming in if severe weather is headed their way, as business drops big time. Plan the best you can, and you can always run a hot sale if you get hung with inventory. Who doesn’t like 80% off on ugly sweaters?

Robert DiPietro

Retailers can and must plan for changes in weather. Weather will impact shopping habits and behaviors of customers and retailers should adjust for it. They can adjust inventory, in store merchandising and pricing to reflect new behavior. Every store moves a display of shovels to the front when it snows or if it is raining, they move umbrellas.

Adam Siegel

Great comments on this thread and very informative reporting. These reminders lend a hand to retailers who now have a multitude of analytical data to proactively improve their bottom line, while circumventing and mitigating losses. Intelligent weather forecasting is ultimately integral to a retailer’s success in 2018 and beyond as we defy climate change which continues to throw a wrench into historical forecasting vs staying ahead of the storm.

"Just as a wise person will carry an umbrella even on a clear day, a wise retailer will plan for the inevitable shifts and fluctuations in the weather."
"The growing trend of preppers/survivalists has seen more people getting ready for extreme weather than ever before."
"If you sell seasonal product then watch the calendar and keep a trigger finger over that markdown button."

Take Our Instant Poll

Which of the five myths around weather’s influence on retail sales is most widely believed to be true?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...