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How does the weather affect your sales?

How does the weather affect your sales?

I was chatting with a customer last week, and enquired about how her retail business was doing. She replied that the wet summer had caused her a few issues. She has a shop on the coast and sees a downturn in customers on rainy days. I commiserated and said that at least she had been able to make the most of the short-lived heat wave we have earlier in the summer, but she just smiled wryly and told me that when the weather is that good, everyone is on the beach and no-one is in her shop.

So, is it true then that the weather affects sales in the retail sector? I would imagine that wet and freezing cold days are very bad for market stalls all over the UK, but do they affect businesses with premises? I had a look for some information.

Research that was carried out in 2013 and published in Retail Sales obviously demonstrated that there is a huge hike in retail sales in the period up to Christmas, but that doesn’t have anything to do with the weather, does it? It transpires that the retail sector is quite sensitive when it comes to weather especially when that unusual weather is unexpected and/or prolonged. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) drew attention to a number of events that had caused retail blips:

Widespread heavy snow and extremely low temperatures in December 2010
Queen’s Diamond Jubilee
Olympic and Paralympic Games
Volcanic ash cloud in 2010

But it seems that retailers have pointed out to ONS that actually sales aren’t just affected by significant or severe events but also by unusually high or low temperatures or rainfall. For example, in March 2012 retail sales increased thanks to an unusually mild early Spring. Unfortunately this win was counteracted the following years by decreased sale in a very cold March 2013. Retail sales were also hit by heavy rainfall and flooding in July 2007 and November 2012 suggesting it’s true that weather affect sales in the retail sector.

Of course there are other factors. Consumer confidence in the economy varied from month to month. Levels of spending are still notably down on what they were prior to the 2008/9 economic downturn, suggesting that confidence is still low.

Not so scorchio ...?

Not so scorchio …?

Does hot weather affect sales in the retail sector?

During hot weather the sales in supermarkets (for food and drink) go up. Other sales (non-food and drink) fall. In April 2011 mean temperatures were 3.7°C higher than would normally be expected for that time of year. However April 2011 also had a royal wedding and an extra bank holiday. Retail feedback found increased sales in food and drink.

Rainfall

In June and July of 2007, rainfall was nearly double the long-term average for the time of year across most of the UK. Thousands and thousands of homes and businesses were flooded towards the end of July. However, retail sales remained strong. Similarly in November 2012 there was a long period of heavy rain leading to flooding, particularly in southern and western areas of the UK. Once again, retail sales increased in this month although they had decreased in October and did so again in December.

A cold front for retail sales

A cold front for retail sales

How does cold weather affect sales in the retail sector?

In January 2010 there was a decrease in sales of 3.5% that coincided with extremely low temperatures and widespread snow. However, a recent increase in VAT also affected sales. December 2010 was designated as a statistical special event because of the drop in retail sales after severe cold weather. January 2013 saw substantial disruption thanks to heavy snow in many parts of the UK and the retail sector was affected. More snow in March 2013 again affected retail sales. Obviously many businesses remain closed during poor weather and there are far fewer people able to get out and about to buy.

It would also appear to be true that where seasons seem to go on for a long time, sales stagnate. This is probably because people are waiting to buy new season items, but they won’t buy spring/summer items while the snow is still on the ground, and won’t buy coats while the weather is still warm.

Of course bad weather does not spell misery for everyone by any means. Fair warned is fair armed as the saying goes, and many people bulk buy in the run-up to predicted weather events. This means that food and drink sales tend to do well. Sales of salt, grit, snow shovels and wellington boots tend to do well too.

Spend spend spend - as long as you're not digging out your car or chucking snowballs at the kids!

Spend spend spend – as long as you’re not digging out your car or chucking snowballs at the kids!

Online shopping: does the weather affect sales in the retail sector?

So what about the impact of the weather on online shopping? There’s no definitive research on this really. It stands to reason that if there are ‘snow days’ where schools and businesses are closed, more people will shop online simply because they are at home and have the time to do so. However research in the USA (where they do have proper snow storms to be fair) suggests the opposite.

According to Adobe Digital Index data, one winter storm in the Northeast in late January resulted in a $35 million decrease in online sales, precisely because people were at home and not at work. Adobe analyst Tamara Gaffney suggested this was because normally, “During the work week, a lot of people really do shop from their work desktop,” but during a storm, “You also have power outages and people out shoveling snow. They’re not shopping, they’re doing other things. It has a negative impact on e-commerce.”

Here in the UK the thing to bear in mind is that our weather does fluctuate and as retailers we need to respond. It stands to reason that you will sell more buckets and spades in the summer, and more scarves, hats and coats in the autumn and winter. It’s really not rocket science. The nuances are to do with our unpredictable weather systems. One study for example found that the sale of electrical blankets increased by 100% for every 10% cooling of the weather.

Our unpredictable weather.

Our unpredictable weather.

How should you as a SME respond?

Make a note of patterns in your retail sales.
Try and understand what your customers want and when they want it.
Consider whether changes in buying habits are a result of specific weather conditions or just part of the usual seasonal pattern.
Consider how to convert enquiries and browsing to sales at this time.
Make sure your website is optimised and ready to deal with online sales.
Target your marketing.

Over to you

Do you notice a difference in sales according to the weather? How do you respond? Drop us a line below or come on over to Facebook and have a chat!

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