Summer is in the air: How the weather impacts sales

As we move into summer with the longer days and warmer weather, it's not just our wardrobe that needs an update - retailers are also preparing for the change. But did you know that the weather can significantly impact sales? Researchers found that changes in the weather can explain up to 5.5% of sales variance for high-street stores, while out-of-town shopping centres are less affected. But as ever it’s not that simple, this weather-induced effect actually differs depending on where you live in the country. Is there a north-south behavioural divide when it rains?

Let’s hope for a good summer…

After the latest bank holiday, it finally feels like summer is here. The evenings are getting longer, the grass needs cutting, and it’s time to dust off the BBQ. For retailers, supermarkets have started to change what products they stock. Out go hats, woolly jumpers, and stew ingredients, and in come BBQs, salads, and perhaps optimistically, suntan lotion. But the weather also has a significant impact on how much shoppers buy. After analysing sales data spanning two years and 2,043 retail locations, researchers discovered fluctuations in the weather accounted for 3.5% of the daily sales variation¹.

Most of this makes intuitive sense, on hotter days sales increase, and when the weather is bad (e.g., it’s raining, windy or too humid) sales decrease – after all people don’t like going outside in the rain. But some shops are hit more than others. The effect is far greater for stores on the high-street than those based on an out-of-town shopping centre.  For shops located on the high-street, changes to the weather explain up to 5.5% of sales variance whereas it’s less than 1% for shops on out-of-town shopping centres. Again, this makes logical sense. When shopping on the highstreets we have to spend more time walking outside, either window shopping or just walking from one store to the next. This means if it’s raining, we’re going to get wet!  

Are southerners really softer?

met office year 2022 rainfall amount

Interestingly, the effect also differs across the country. People who live in more rural areas or areas of the country that are more used to extreme weather (for example, the southwest or Northern areas of the UK, where there are stronger costal winds, higher rates of rain, and on average lower temperatures) are less bothered by the weather when shopping. Bad weather is just a fact of everyday life, so they get used to it. Conversely people who live in London, an area that is on average 10'C warmer than neighbouring rural areas, and that has half the annual rainfall compared to the rest of the UK, are most effected by the weather when shopping. (Feel free to insert your own joke about people who live in London here….) 

So far, we’ve been talking about generalisations and assuming that the weather effects all stores equally. However, that’s not the case. Typically, if it's heavy rain, sales of footwear, clothing, cosmetics, and even beverages are dramatically down (especially beer in the summer). On the positive side, rain tends to increase the sales of books and DIY equipment. It turns out if we can't go to the garden, people like to spend more time doing up their house and curling up with a good book². But even if it’s not a wet summer, and simply colder than normal, that’s enough to change sales as we’re more likely to shop online and spend more on household products.  Whereas in autumn, sales of textile, clothing, footwear, and cosmetics all increase if its colder than normal. 

So, fingers crossed for a nice summer – that is unless you sell books! And whilst we obviously can’t control the weather (nor retail calendars which are often planned well in advance), we CAN be aware of the impact weather will have on shopping behaviour and we can potentially use this to our advantage in planning our digital advertising spend and/or tactical real-time comms across channels such as social media. 

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1 Rose, N., & Dolega, L. (2022). It’s the weather: Quantifying the impact of weather on retail sales. Applied Spatial Analysis and Policy, 15(1), 189-214.

2 Bertrand, J. L., & Parnaudeau, M. (2017). No more blaming the weather: a retailer’s approach to measuring and managing weather variability. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 45(7/8), 730-761. 

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