Man has long desired to control the weather but, despite the Beijing Weather Modification taking it upon itself to keep the 2008 Olympics free of rain, ultimately there is very little we can do to stop Mother Nature.

So we have no choice but to let the weather dominate our lives… or do we?

Most of us do not check the weather every day – unless we are planning an activity that relies on certain weather conditions – but as Big Data gets bigger, businesses can use weather data to help their customers stay safe, dress appropriately and increase sales.

For example, if an insurance company using weather data discovers that heavy winds are expected in the north-west, they can send a weather warning text to all of their customers in that area, telling them to put their cars in the garage or park them away from trees. This not only helps keep customers’ safe, but potentially saves the insurers hundreds of thousands of pounds in insurance claims.

So can retailers use the weather to their advantage?

Well of course! Every store changes its window displays to reflect the seasons, so that umbrellas are clearly visible when it rains and in summer – once the sun finally decides to put his hat on – its sunglasses that dominate the displays.

But how many times have you been out battling the wind and the rain whilst the shops are full of skimpy summer clothes? Or gone to a supermarket on a hot March day, only to find the shelves have been stripped of absolutely everything that could be barbecued?

Last year Tradedoubler showed that on days with more sunshine there are fewer online sales. This might seem like common sense, but if these people are heading to the High Street instead, then retailers need to be prepared for them.

If retailers have access to accurate weather-related data, they can anticipate what customers will want to buy and arrange for the required stock levels and staff members; they can also plan appropriate weather-related promotions.

In this ever-developing digital world, retailers are finally starting to make the most of available weather data and are combining it with their own information on which products they sell more of in certain conditions to increase sales and store footfall.

Food for thought

Supermarkets have been pioneering weather data technology for years, using sensitive forecasting techniques that can help them to predict what their customers will buy during different types of weather.

The results are not always what you might think.

For example, you might think that ice-cream sales would increase during a heatwave and (unsurprisingly) they do, but only up to a certain point; once the temperature goes above 25°C people are actually more likely to buy ice lollies.

This temperature will also see a 42% increase in burger sales (presumably as people suddenly decide to have a barbecue) and as the temperature rises up to 30°, coleslaw sales increase by 50%, but sales of green vegetables decrease by 25%.

Tesco claims that using weather-related data to predict how much stock they will or will not need saves them in excess of £6 million a year.

The shopping forecast

Outside of supermarkets, it is more difficult to judge what shoppers are looking for, but retailers can instead use weather data to increase impromptu purchases of weather-related products.

As part of their Digital Out Of Home campaign, Argos experimented with weather data across key digital sites, displaying barbecues and water pistols when it was hot and indoor activities when it rained. This concept was to promote their ‘order online today, enjoy today’ multichannel campaign.

Similarly in the summer of 2013, Johnson & Johnson worked with the Met Office to produce the Social Pollen Count, a local and live pollen count app. This localised social campaign not only informed people of days when their area was likely to be affected by high pollen count, but also enabled sufferers to submit their own pollen hotspots to the map.

More recently, Burton personalised its homepage, adjusting displayed products depending on the visitor’s local weather and saw an 11.6% uplift in conversions across all users.

Another example of utilising weather data is Pantene with their ‘Beautiful hair, whatever the weather’ campaign. In partnership with The Weather Channel and Walgreens, Pantene used weather-related bad hair days to reconnect with its customers.

Each time a customer checked the weather forecast on her mobile, tablet or desktop, she was served a geo-targeted advert with the best Pantene product to solve her bad hair day problems, plus a $2 voucher to spend in-store at Walgreens.

This voucher helped to take the campaign offline and Pantene was cleverly promoted in Walgreens stores with visual stands that tied into the campaign. By also sending hair care kits to female meteorologists, Pantene managed to start a buzz on Twitter using the hashtag #Haircast.

By combing weather data with mobile and an in-store incentive, Pantene successfully reengaged with its female audience on a multichannel level and saw huge increases in both in-store sales and social media activity.

The calm after the storm

The contextual flexibility provided by weather data enables retailers to promote certain products and offers in real-time, both online and on the High Street.

If a retailer knows that there will be a heatwave at the beginning of August, they can postpone their summer sale until later in the month and continue to sell summer items at full-price while demand for them is high.

And if snow is on the way, supermarkets and stores can stock up on milk, bread, shovels and sledges, but at the same time make sure that their online store is prepared for the influx in online orders from people confined to the house. 

We may not be able to control the weather, but we can at least do more than just talk about it. Retailers can now use real-time and historical weather data to accurately predict High Street footfall and online sales, as well as which items they are likely to sell more of during certain temperatures.