Forecasting the Unforecastable

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Year after year it happens – THE BIG FREEZE, THE BIBLICAL FLOOD, LONDON IS MELTING. We’ve all seen the headlines, and thank goodness for the British weather for keeping our journalists in work. There’s nothing like trying to find a scandal in the handiwork of Mother Nature.

But the impact of the weather doesn’t just impact commuters, meals on wheels drivers and labouring mothers. It has a huge effect on retail sales.

Of course, there’s the physical knock-on effect… If it’s too wet nobody wants to walk along the high street so sales there dip but the big shopping centres see greater footfall. If it’s too hot nobody wants to be trying on clothes in sweaty changing rooms, and frankly we all want to be in the Great Outdoors – at this point it’s the food retailers who benefit as sales of Pimms, burgers and halloumi rocket (and rocket sales of course also climb). Then there’s the snow – this can leave us all stranded, but inevitably leads to increased sales for brands like Hunter… and cat litter.

But what of the product itself? Inevitably the wrong weather appears at the wrong time – famously October 2012 was too hot as we enjoyed an Indian Summer, so while we’re wearing our flip flops and enjoying a Calippo the shops are trying to sell winter coats and Ugg boots. And sales plummeted. The same is true when we’re all supposed to be thinking of spring pastels and sandals, but the cold weather is keeping us all wrapped up in scarves and gloves.

These seasonal changes (or – as so often is the case – unseasonal patterns) have a massive impact on sales for retailers, and can be hugely damaging. No merchandiser under the sun can effectively forecast in the face of freak weather conditions. Or are they freak? Perhaps it’s just a matter of constantly having a neutral range available (be it in-store or just online) that enables sales consistency whatever the weather.

One thing’s for certain, retailers will always use the weather as an excuse for poor sales. Last week saw the latest figures from both Ted Baker and Arcadia. The latter reported a dip, blaming the weather. The former a huge uplift. Same sky, same weather, go figure.

Ultimately the weather will always be there – rain or shine – and it’s up to retailers to be smart about how they circumnavigate the various pitfalls the heavens throw at them.

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