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GUEST COMMENT Marketing in context come rain or shine

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Retail can be a cut-throat industry subject to the whims of the public. However, it isn’t just the fickleness of your average shopper that can affect the health of any retail brand. All retailers know that the unpredictable weather of the British Isles can play a huge part in determining sales. It is a rare retailer that hasn’t seen its plan to turn its new and ultra-desirable winter coat in to a bestseller scuppered by an unseasonal heatwave. In turn, a wet summer doesn’t really inspire consumers to rush out and buy ice creams, shorts and suntan lotion and retailers are lucky indeed if they can drive the tides heading towards the beach because of a very un-British heatwave into their stores.

In an era when customers have greater access to information on-the-go from their smartphones, the expectation on retailers is far greater. If I can access to a minute-by-minute weather report on my smartphone, if I want a winter coat, I expect to be able to find one. The Weathernomics report by The Weather Channel shows that 60 per cent of shoppers change their habits based on the weather. With the importance of weather on customer decision-making, retailers have to respond. The challenge for offline retailing though is how to meet the demands of modern customers.

What online retailers are especially good at (apart from being highly competitive on price) is being able to respond to shifting customer need quickly and efficiently. If we look at this from the point of view of how the weather affects shoppers’ desires then online retailers are at a strong advantage. Think of it in these terms, if it is sunny outside shoppers may be clamouring for garden furniture for example. This will naturally affect the search criteria that shoppers will then use to browse online. Online retailers are able to take advantage of surges in certain search criteria like this to rapidly adjust their product offering and engage with their shoppers offering products and promotions that are perfectly geared towards what shoppers want at that moment in time.

But can retailers apply online techniques to the offline experience? A bricks and mortar store is fundamentally less flexible than its online equivalent, customers are increasingly driven by a greater access to data around the weather and it has a profound impact on their decision-making. Customers can plan ahead for any weather eventuality, but this increasingly means retailers can and should too.

Brands are already on the case and adapting how they advertise and distribute products. A good example is back in 2013 when FMCG brand, Florette, used such data to plan its ad campaign. It found a third of its bagged-salad consumers only bought in the summer months when the sun was shining. By using Met Office data, it was able to schedule its TV and digital advertising to coincide with sunny days when consumers were more likely to be seeking out salad. Ultimately the campaign drives a better return on investment, appealing to its customers with the right goods, at the right time and place.

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. Digital is becoming the enabler – 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. Liptons Ice Tea for example ran a campaign last year to target 18-24 year olds. The campaign used thermo-activated mobile ads on Facebook to trigger ads in warm temperatures when customers are likely to want a cold drink.

For retailers, the challenge will always be to plan for the right stock to be available in different weather conditions. 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.

Julie Atherton is CSO at customer engagement agency Indicia.

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