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Weather the weather

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August was not just a wash out for my soggy camping holiday, but also one of the worst on record for e-commerce, according to the IMRG and its figures for online sales for the month. Poor weather and a late bank holiday are getting the blame – and herein lies the problem: retailers are too reliant on uncontrollable outside factors. This is England, of course the weather is bad.

The bright light within the figures is that mobile is still on the up and both the IMRG and a new study by offers site finds that tablets and smartphones are growing in their impact on e-commerce, even as people shy away from online retail in the rain.

And here I have to admit being a bit confused: isn’t non-mobile e-commerce likely to be being done indoors? You’d think that, with it hefting it down outside, the bored would turn to shopping online, but seemingly not. Anyway, I digress…

What is interesting is that these three things – bad weather, arbitrary bank holidays and increased mobile use – are both the problem and the solution. Relying on the weather to lift sales is just plain silly. Sure, you can stock up on barbeque food, garden furniture, crop tops and sandals and simply cross your fingers and hope the sky is kind. But there is a greater chance that no, it won’t be.

Or you can look at how consumers are using mobile and tablets and try and work out how to galvanise that usage into ways to get people to come and shop with you – in the real world, or online – when the weather isn’t so good.

For too long, consumers have faced the weirdness of not being able to buy a jumper until the retail world tells them they can or having garden furniture thrust at them when all they want is a watering can. Fashion claims to be seasonal, but people aren’t.

So, why isn’t mobile being used to create the right kind of interest in the things that people may want when they want them? Retailers need to stop thinking in blocks and seasons and get adaptable.

Of course there are massive issues with buying and supply, but the motor industry managed to switch from mass production to just in time to revive its fortunes, similar things can happen in retail.

And mobile can then be a much more effective conduit to the consumer: they are already using it (and using it more and more) and it can do so much more than just be an e-commerce channel. It is a rapid and direct marketing channel, which is ideal for quick and direct marketing when, say, the bank holiday turns out to be wet and windy and all barbeque bets are off.

This combination of just in time, rapid almost guerrilla marketing and rise of mobile use in commerce has the potential to stop retailers being at the mercy of the Jetstream (and the powers that be that decide when Bank Holidays fall). The big question is how to make this happen. And that, my friends, is something that we hope to learn from the raft of excellent speakers at the Internet Retailing Conference on 14 October. See you there.

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