Ben Latham, Director of Digital Strategy at retail consulting and marketing firm Summit, provides his take on how wet weather hits bike sales and what can be done to tackle any dips...
If there’s one thing Britons know well, it’s unpredictable summer weather. Sweltering days in the office are followed by blustery bank holidays and wash out weekends. It marks the beginning of many conversations. It is a national obsession. And naturally, it impacts the way we behave. Recently, Halfords announced a fall in the sales of its bicycles - a substantial 11 per cent drop in the eight weeks to 28 August. They put this down to wet weather. But does rain really have such an enormous impact on retail sales?
When looking at the UK retail market as a whole against weather variations there isn’t a significant correlation. According to ONS, us Brits are pretty resilient when it comes to rainfall. In an analysis of extreme weather periods, it concluded that heavy bursts of rain don’t have an enormous effect. In June-July of 2007, the UK saw rainfall close to double of the long-term average for the time of year - homes and businesses were flooded - but retail sales remained resilient. November 2012 saw a prolonged period of heavy rain leading to widespread flooding. Retail sales actually increased.
However, weather can have a notable positive and negative effect on sales for certain seasonal products at different times of the year. For example, Summit’s historical data tells us that in winter, a 10 per cent change in temperature can improve conversion rate of electric blankets by 100 per cent, and in summer, an increase in temperature of 4 degrees Celsius over the average temperature, increases interest in parasols by 300 per cent; these products are not only influenced by seasonal behaviour but also have a strong relationship with weather.
Bikes are one of those seasonal items: searches for the term ‘bikes’ peak in summer, and trough in winter. Last month, searches dropped 1 per cent compared to August 2014, and July saw an even bigger drop of 9 per cent compared to the same month in the previous year. This followed an increase in rain of 57 per cent compared to the previous year.
How can retailers combat the impact of rain?
What is clear is that retailers cannot rely on the weather to increase sales. But, regardless of the weather, retailers can see a successful growth in sales. Because while the fickleness of the UK weather may provoke a few moans and groans, life carries on.
To do so they must continue to innovate and adapt to changing consumer demands. Joining up what the customer is looking for and catching them at a moment when they are likely to make a purchase and are in the right mindset is key.
There’s an outstanding variety of nuances involved in weather-related consumer decision-making. Relationships depend on the product, the demographic that’s buying it, the time of the day and the moment in the season. But the first step is to understand the impact that weather has on people’s buying behaviour. For example, to truly get to grips with this, we have developed a library of ten years’ worth of data, comprising of sales statistics and weather fluctuation, amongst other factors to help us to understand the subtleties of the customer journey, and how it can be disrupted.
The second is to respond to it quickly and efficiently. Clearly, online retailers are at a strong advantage. They can gear up to change the face of their homepages as soon as the sun starts shining, prepare to send a newsletter as soon as it starts raining and kick-start a promotion as soon as the first flake of snow hits the ground. Likewise, digital advertising campaigns can also be activated according to the weather. However, it is important to consider that while consumers do react to the weather as it happens, they also plan according to the weather forecast. We use a 10 day weather forecast to help us to predict consumer buying behaviour in advance, giving brands more time to prepare and adapt in response.
There is now scope for offline retailers to begin using the weather to tailor ads on the high street and reflect the customers’ context at that precise moment in time too. Developments in technology mean brands can take advantage of outdoor advertising to create campaigns that adapt to real-time information. For example, Costa Coffee recently developed a two month campaign that uses thermal triggers to promote its Ice Cold Costa range among commuters on the London Underground network when temperatures rose above 22 degrees Celsius. Each location-specific advert also directed commuters to the nearest outlet where they can buy Ice Cold Costa as they reach the exit of the stations.
This drives a better return on investment, appealing to its customers with the right goods, at the right time.
There is nothing more relevant than the weather. It influences the way we feel, the way we travel, what we eat. It influences the houses we buy and the amount of fuel we consume. For retailers, the challenge will always be understanding how to use it to their advantage rather than to its demise. But through careful planning and access to live data there is scope to greater contextualise the purchase journey to drive sales through more relevant engagement with customers.
Halfords cannot, and should not blame it all on the weather man.
Ben Latham is Director of Digital Strategy at Summit: www.summit.co.uk