We are told that the UK is one of the trickiest countries in the world to predict the weather. But if you think it’s hard being a weatherman predicting the next three days’ outcome, imagine what it’s like for a British retailer to predict spending patterns months in advance on an island that can have heat-waves in March, floods in August and droughts in December.
The weather is fickle and therefore so are our spending patterns. But how much does the weather impact on our online search patterns and therefore our spending?
Search patterns = weather patterns
Retail buyers for seasonal products such as Christmas toys or Mother’s Day gifts can be assured of spending in the months preceding the event. However, buyers who deal with fashion that is weather dependant can be far less assured.
This obviously has a major knock-on effect on stock, merchandising, geographical coverage as well as media buying and advertising.
Summer products matching sunny weeks
It seems obvious, but according to Google Insights searches for the term “sunglasses” match nicely with good weather, as well of course an element of hope during a sunny UK spring. But what is more interesting is how those search patterns change dramatically over the years and that retailers have to have weather-dependent products available almost all year round, thus stocking sunglasses in and wellies in equal supply in March or July.
The following charts show the search patterns for the term “sunglasses“. I use this term to simply emphasise a product that is directly affected by good and bad weather (it could be sun-hats, barbecues, tennis rackets and so on), and to show the peaks and troughs throughout the year, and changing patterns from one year to the next.
2009 Sunglasses Searches Google UK
2010 Sunglasses Searches Google UK
2011 Sunglasses Searches Google UK
Correlation to UK actual Sunshine Hours
Compare the previous chart with the one below.
The 2011 data is not a direct correlation to the sunshine hours we had in the UK, but it is pretty close. Below is chart showing total monthly hours of sunshine for the weather station in Oxford for 2011. In both the 2011 charts we see a fantastic sunny March and April, with the sunshine petering out then on. (Longest day of the year in UK is June 20th)
2012 Sunglasses Searches Google UK
This year has been extremely strange already. We’ve had droughts and floods in equal measures. This has probably been a nightmare for retailers who will be presumably stocking wellies alongside sun-hats and hoping next year’s sunglasses trends aren’t too different from this year’s.
Summer is still Reasonably Predictable
These Google insights charts show that sunglasses searches are reasonably predictable. However bad the summer is, purchasers will still live in hope and buy their sunglasses at some point from March through to the end of summer.
Below shows the top two peak weeks for “sunglasses” searches by year from 2004 to 2011.
Wet Weather products – Less Predictable
On the flip side is the search patterns for “wellies”, a fashion item that was once synonymous with gardening and winters pursuits, but more recently with the summer festivals. I use “wellies” as a typical wet weather product (it could have been umbrellas or rain-coats)
Search activity for “wellies” used to be predominant for the winter months, but that has changed and summer seems to be beating winter for two reasons:
- Firstly is the festival fashion accessory worn at Glastonbury, Leeds and the Isle of Wight. These festival will have an impact on search.
- Secondly weather patterns over the past decade have definitely changed. The last few years has seen some very wet summers, especially August. In fact the summer months have become some of the wettest months with the usual wet April being what of the driest over the last few years.
Some examples of changing annual UK rainfall and a correlation with search:
2007 “Wellies” Searches Google UK versus Rainfall
2009 “Wellies” Searches Google UK versus Rainfall
2012 is a big year for “wellies”
Bearing in mind that August has been very wet over the last few years, wet weather gear should continue to go up in the search patterns. So far this year July is the peak month by far.
Peak months for “Wellies” searches
However, it seems that for welly purchase, like the rain, no rule is set, and search patterns could flip from summer to winter from one year to the next. In terms of search it means that weather dependent products can rarely be parked like seasonal products.
The chart above sows the huge disparity from one year to the next for purchasing of wellies and that a once winter product now peaks in the summer as often as it does in the winter. Interestingly the usual wet months of March and April don’t even feature.
A Retail buyers headache?
It certainly has been a nightmare season for retailers and any business that has to deal with the UK weather fluctuations (theme parks, cricket clubs, UK holiday companies etc etc).
However retail digital teams can react and adapt accordingly far quicker than the buyers can and make the most of a dire situation by quickly pushing wet weather products and gaining high positions when it really matters.
Adapting quickly online to weather patterns, knowing that they have a diret impact on search patterns, could be key in turning a bad situation into a manageable one.