Wild weather patterns have become the norm in many parts of the country, but swings in temperature could start meaning an uptick in sales for some retail brands.
Using live weather conditions from radar and satellites, along with road-specific forecasts, high-resolution traffic feeds, and user-reported traffic conditions, companies are harnessing weather data to inform nearly every aspect of their businesses—from back-end operations to marketing, pricing, and even inventory management.
“Retailers are beginning to pay more attention to operationalizing the weather into business processes,” says Beth Padera, principal offering manager at The Weather Company. “In the past, weather decisions were more based on gut-feel or past experience, but now retailers are getting more scientific about weather to support their decisions.”
Since its product and technology businesses were acquired by IBM in 2015, The Weather Company has mounted a strong push into the predictive analytics market. The company now works with retailers to provide weather information in real-time, and offers an operations dashboard that enables businesses to understand how weather will impact shipments coming into warehouses, whether certain products might be delayed, and whether weather conditions will impact consumer traffic coming into their stores (which would then influence store-specific staffing needs).
Understanding that weather influences what consumers want to buy, along with where, when, and how customers want to make those purchases, The Weather Company now sells weather-triggered advertising and marketing solutions. The company is also offering demand planning, utilizing sub-seasonal and seasonal forecasts that go out seven months to help retailers plan their sourcing, purchasing, promotions, markdowns, and product allocation strategies.
Padera says that shorter-term weather forecasts, up to 15 days out, are also being used to make decisions around truck routing, product rotation, distribution center operations, and to inform store staffing and resource allocation.
“Knowing that a storm is coming and that the store will be busy the hours before the storm, that some staff will need to be diverted to clear snow in the parking lot, [or that] others might have trouble getting to the store due to road conditions are all critical pieces of information that [a] store manager can use to keep operations going smoothly and not leave money on the table,” she says.
Over the course of its evolution from media property to data provider, The Weather Company has launched a number of platforms designed to connect the dots between weather and business. Back in 2012, the company partnered with Jumptap to host mobile campaign ads. In 2013, it launched a self-serve product for the SMB market. In 2016, the company unveiled an updated advertising location-targeting platform called JOURNEYfx.
Despite the platforms and use cases—including a deal with Lyft, which added The Weather Channel to its list of third-party app integrations last year—Padera believes that businesses are still underutilizing weather data for a simple reason: it’s not easy.
“To really understand how weather can impact your business, retailers need to have all the right data in the right place matched together,” she says. “However, the right analytics and data science with weather data can offer retailers game-changing insights.”
Monitoring weather for conditions that cause a spike or dip in demand and actually putting weather data into action by modifying short- or long-term business strategies are two different things. But when retailers are successful in turning weather into decision-making information, they’re poised to make smarter real-time decisions.
“As retailers face broad industry challenges—especially brick-and-mortar stores—we know that any actionable insight that leads to cost reduction can make a difference in a retailer’s ability to compete in today’s landscape,” she says.
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.