Mind the Store

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3 Ways Weather Forecasts Can Improve Retail Sales Forecasts

Brian Tervo, President & COO
by Brian Tervo, President & COO
Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Bad weather is often bad news for retailers, preventing shoppers from showing up in stores and therefore putting a big dent in sales. When massive snowstorms hit the Boston area in early 2015, retailers told the Boston Herald they lost millions of dollars each day they were closed. But cold weather can be a boon for retailers, too: while the following winter season saw high temperatures and low sales rates for stores, this year’s chilly December gave retailers selling outerwear a $350 million boost, according to Planalytics.

Losing money during storm season or warmer-than-normal season doesn’t have to be the cost of doing business in an inclement area. Yes, weather can be sudden, even unpredictable, but it poses an important opportunity for brick-and-mortars to encourage shopping. With a clear strategy for responding to weather events, retailers can actually drive traffic and revenue in-stores — turning a dreary day into a bright one for business.

Rain or Shine, Have a Weather Plan in Place

Renee Tarnutzer, product marketing specialist for analytics company Understory Weather, pays close attention to weather’s impact on industries—retail among them. She helps clients take advantage of what she calls “weather-driven micro-moments,” which are prime opportunities to build customer trust, create brand awareness and drive sales in-store. While convenience is an appeal of online shopping, instant gratification works in favor of brick-and-mortars.

“When weather happens, customers do not have time to wait for product to be delivered,” Tarnutzer says. “Retailers can communicate with their customers immediately before the weather event, when the customer is in the ‘I want to know’ moment, and after, when the customer is in the ‘I want to buy’ moment.”

Take an incoming snowstorm or rainstorm: Retailers with relevant supplies like snow shovels and sandbags, or apparel like gloves and hats—can market inventory availability through social media channels to drive in-store traffic. Localized search engine ads are also a good idea, Tarnutzer says, since people who are concerned about a bad storm will probably be hitting Google to figure out how to stock up on supplies rather than waiting around for delivery from an online retailer.

Brands can also offer guidance and education as a way to draw shoppers to stores for weather-related gear. For example, stores that sell chainsaws in the wake of a storm that downed trees and branches can suggest shoppers attend an in-store safety class or get a lesson from a sales associate. Or, in advance of a storm, brands can offer how-to guides on boarding up windows, protecting fragile plants, or even keeping kids entertained with books and games when the power goes out.

“You’re creating a solid brand experience that shows you’re the place to go for help,” Tarnutzer says of these in-store activations.

Build Marketing Campaigns Around Weather

Not in the weather-related-product business? Any retailer can turn a storm or other event into a reason to buy by making it the centerpiece of a promotion. In 2015, suburban Chicago store Art Van Furniture’s “Let It Snow” promotion offered consumers refunds on purchases if it snowed more than three inches on Super Bowl Sunday. The refunds applied to purchases made on specific days early in January, when the campaign was heavily advertised. Sure enough, a blizzard dropped 19 inches of snow on the day of the game and many happy shoppers got free furniture. Art Van Furniture got a great deal, too: they’d purchased an insurance policy from Lloyd’s of London against a possible snowfall, which means the retailer didn’t have to pay for all of the refunds—and the store gained extra publicity in the process.

A sudden onset of balmy summer weather or the first crisp fall weekend can also offer opportunities to drive in-store traffic. On a Friday before the first nice weekend in spring, people may immediately think about getting out in the garden and will want to hit up local retailers on Saturday for plants or new patio furniture instead of ordering online and waiting out two-day shipping or paying a premium for next-day delivery. Same goes for athletic apparel: fitness enthusiasts may want to grab new running shoes or clothes in good weather and would be encouraged by discounts or promotions to hit the store and make a purchase.

Use Historical Data to Identify and Capitalize On Trends

With a strategy in place, brands can turn weather into one of their biggest advantages—and it can be a factor in marketing and sales all year long. Brands should use weather analytics to develop in-store campaigns before or after various types of weather events. As IBM Analytics notes, retailers can combine weather data with other information such as product category sales. They can also compare past buying habits to figure out how weather changes what shoppers will purchase. For example, a retail chain was able to figure out that shoppers bought more steak when it was windy and hot (but not raining) and more salads when temperatures reached more than 80 degrees. Armed with this data, brands promoted specific food products when the weather conditions seemed favorable based on meteorology reports. The strategy worked, IBM reported: Sales of these products increased 18 percent.

Weather opportunities will vary, depending on the ups and downs of a region’s climate and the suitability of products to these kinds of promotions. But keep in mind, weather promotions don’t have to be limited to the obvious products like winter coats and snow shovels—get creative to tap into customer impulse buys around rain, snow, heat waves or the first day of spring.

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