Seasonal stock: how to anticipate buying behaviour

How can retailers anticipate buying behaviour throughout the year?

With temperatures reaching record highs as of late, many of us are thinking about barbeques after work and daydreaming of ice creams on the beach. But the balmy forecasts are also triggering particular retail behaviour: behind the scenes, supermarket suppliers are flicking switches to overhaul their meat output, and online marketers are scrambling to up their ad content.

The impact of the weather on particular seasonal businesses can be huge. This April, an unseasonably sunny spell saw some British ice cream sellers report a 400% boost in sales.

The idea that we act as a ‘swarm’, all doing very similar things at the same time, can seem a little depressing to anyone who likes to think of themselves as an individual. But it can be a boon for entrepreneurs and managers, who are able to use increasingly sophisticated technology to predict behaviour and then tweak their business accordingly.

Calculations are careful and precise: if three consecutive days of good weather are predicted, with a ‘trigger’ temperature of 18°C, factories shift their production to cater to barbeques. Production lines that were previously geared towards minced meat instead shape their beef into burgers.

In the world of advertising, tools like weatherFIT can hook up online adverts to the local weather forecasts. For example, underwear company Bravissimo boosted profits by switching online bra adverts to swimwear ads every time good weather was predicted.

But even without vast resources of data, it’s possible for small business owners to take advantage of the predictability of human behaviour.

Look at patterns

There are plenty of free tools out there to give you an insight into what people are interested in and what potential customers are browsing (or buying) at any given time. Google Trends, for example, can show you what people are searching for and when, which you may be able to correlate with seasons, weather, or things like news stories or new legislation.

Collect your own data

On a more local level, it’s very important that you have a good grasp of your own data. If you run a shop, pub or a restaurant, for example, you could start recording weather conditions for each day and then looking at how they relate to your sales figures. It’s also a good idea to plot hourly sales to see how the time of day affects buying habits, and annual sales to see how the seasons impact your business.

Use the data to predict and plan

If you can draw a connection between weather conditions and sales figures then you can use this to plan resources and stock. If there’s a heat wave predicted, it’s pretty obvious that a pub should stock more cider and Pimm’s and call its cucumber supplier, but you may detect less obvious patterns that you can also use to your advantage.

Use data to inform your advertising

Taking a flexible, responsive approach to sales and advertising is a smart thing to do. That may mean advertising iced coffee on the board outside your café on a hot day, displaying umbrellas by your shop door as a downpour begins, or switching off your online adverts if you know that few people make a purchase on your website when the weather’s bad.

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