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Why retailers always blame the weather

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Recent data from Experian shows that the sunny weather in June impacted sales on the high street, but when the snow covered much of the UK last December that too was blamed for bad performances. CEO of health & beauty e-tailer Feelunique.com Aaron Chatterley explains why the weather is so important to the industry, and how it affects e-commerce too.

There are some self-evident truths in the world. For example, dogs will always chase cats, the England football team will never win another World Cup, the Wallabies will win the next rugby World Cup (I am a proud Aussie, after all!) and retailers will always blame the weather for their woes.

It’s too warm – sales are down. It’s too cool – sales are down. It is raining too much – sales are down. It is not raining enough – sorry, sales are down. It is snowing before Christmas – give up and go home.

Personally, I try not to comment on the weather, as it probably only encourages it!

It is often the first resort of retailers to blame poor performance on unseasonal weather. And on some occasions, it is actually true. But even last Christmas, when we had appalling weather, people still had to buy presents. Maybe less impulse purchases are made, or consumers braved the cold to the absolute minimum, because clearly in that instance, retailers did suffer.

For online retailers – who generally cater to customers who place orders from their laptops, without the need to encounter any weather at all – the situation is somewhat different.

Is it true that we have noticed small dips in sales at Feelunique when the weather is particularly fine. Last June and July were glorious and early the whole e-tail sector noticed a slight slowdown.

On the other side of the coin, good weather definitely equals good sales for skincare and tanning products with consumers shopping online from work. We also have special promotions on a Monday, so our customers can shop for products in anticipation of a sunny weekend.

But e-tailers do have to keep an eye on the weather. For example, there are a great many product categories that are weather dependent. And that means e-tailers have to modify their SEO activity accordingly. For instance, if we want to rank as highly as possible on Google for “suntan lotion”, then you need to up your spend on those keywords up to three months before the anticipated start of the summer.

Likewise, if you are in the business of selling warm winter gloves, then you need to achieve a suitable listing position by October.

Google Trends is an invaluable tool to work out where your online marketing spend needs to go and when.

Paid search has a particular advantage over natural search in that it can also respond to abnormal weather changes.

So for example, an e-tailer that sells fan heaters can rapidly exploit an unexpected cold snap by purchasing more paid search impressions. The only thing to worry about is whether stock levels and your supply chain can keep up with the uplift in demand.

Ultimately, the weather affects the purchasing behaviour of consumers – for both high street and e-tail. Anticipating to weather related consumer behaviour can provide an important competitive advantage.

But we all know about the fallibility of weather forecasters. A drought was declared in the south-east of England quite recently. Has it stopped raining since?

So e-tailers have to keep one eye on the weather, but like I said, giving it too much attention is asking for trouble!

Note: The views expressed here are those of Aaron Chatterley and do not necessarily represent the views of Retail Gazette.

Published on Friday 08 July by Editorial Assistant

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