As the UK enjoyed its hottest summer on record there was an abundance of advice on how to handle it; drink lots of water, don’t water your gardens, keep your curtains closed to keep rooms cool etc etc.
There was much advice on what to do individually to make conditions bearable but what advice was there for retailers, already facing well documented fiscal pressures and seismic shifts in consumer shopping behaviours - how can they survive a heatwave? Would the heat drive shoppers into stores? Would it put off the expensive big ticket jacket purchases till too late in the season….
Extreme weather conditions are becoming the new norm here in the UK therefore we thought we’d explore the impact the weather has on retail to check if there are any lessons to be learnt, as weather is one of those funny things - it’s all consuming when we are experiencing it and then its quickly forgotten.
For example, as we reach the end of one of the longest heat waves on record it’s hard to remember that it was only five months ago that we endured the Beast from the East when snow brought the country to a virtual standstill!
Weather impacts retail in two main ways; the ability and desire to shop and what is bought;
Consumers ability and desire to shop
Pretty obvious but when the country experiences even a whiff of snow (let alone full on snowed-in blizzards) people go into survival mode - venturing to the shops only to stock up on essentials (remember the bread and milk shortages experienced in April) therefore high street fashion stores see a dramatic drop in footfall. Personally I did venture into Edinburgh city centre and it was like a ghost town - with many of the major retailers shut as staff couldn’t get there! Whereas online sales tend to rise as people find themselves with enforced spare time at home, which results in a knock on to delivery times, already impacted by the poor conditions.
Wet weather also keeps shoppers away from traditional high streets although retailers with a presence in out of town shopping malls generally enjoy an uplift as consumers while away wet afternoons browsing undercover.
Then when the weather is very hot - the high street takes a hit again - footfall in July fell by 0.8% as we all sought to enjoy the sunshine. The only ones enjoying the increase were the supermarkets with the hunt for BBQ supplies helping to drive customers to their stores.
In summary weather extremes impact if and where consumers shop and as the UK weather, already renowned for its unpredictability, becomes more extreme this needs to be factored into delivery channel planning.
Impact on what consumers seek to buy
Weather definitely drives fashion sales and this is the area where retailers can excel with their seasonal items. For example in July overall retail sales were down but fashion retail increased by 1.3% which was attributed to the good weather - as the prolonged hot weather sent us shopping for new summer outfits. I know my wardrobe expanded with multiple short purchases and several ‘garish shirts as I fully embraced the good weather.
With long lead times the challenge is how to predict and stock not only seasonal items that your consumers want but also to match the availability of these to extreme weather fluctuations.
Whilst some companies have adapted by shortening their supply chain the companies still buying months in advance can’t rely on the long range weather forecast to help them anymore and this can result in both over and under stock issues, very quickly.
With full price sell through levels at an all time low and approx 53% of all fashion products being sold at a discount in 2018, the weather extremes experienced this year have given some retailers an unexpected boost. The Beast from the East shifted leftover outerwear winter 2017 surplus items that were set to be heavily discounted and retailers with on trend seasonal summer wear have also enjoyed increased sales in this category.
So what’s the answer to our every more extreme weather? Hedging our bets and never going too deep on seasonal products? Investing heavily in weather data months in advance and hoping they’ve got it right for once? Or, maybe we just need to focus on how we can create a more nimble supply chain that can react to weather changes and customer feedback quickly? Not an easy solution but one that doesn’t just help with seasonality - but maybe, just maybe helps with backing a trend much much quicker!