How To Leverage Weather-Based Marketing And Grow Your Retail Holiday Sales

Shopping in the snow

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Updated December 6, 2023

We know how weather can affect retail sales, but what can we do about it?

A long time ago, in a mall far, far away, I was running a flagship retail store in the United States' premier shopping mall, South Coast Plaza.

It was a few weeks before Christmas, and foot traffic was awfully low for a Saturday afternoon, usually one of the store’s busiest days.  

The few people who were shopping seemed to be in a grumpy mood. My crew was ready for the rush that never happened.

That night, when I got home and turned on the TV, I saw why we were so slow: torrential rains had flooded the freeway on and off ramps for hours in the middle of the day, making it virtually impossible to get into the mall.

Weather affects retail all the time, but during December, it can be the difference between lights out and lights out ... if you know what I mean.

While it’s a no-brainer to think of retail sales going up for ice scrapers and flu relief products at this time of year, less obvious insights reveal that soda sales increase during snowy or rainy winters while cold, crisp weather provides an ideal context for pasta consumption.  

This makes sense if you’ve ever had to shovel a driveway in 20-degree windchill; you want feelings of comfort and escape from the elements.

When weather conditions are optimal for in-store shopping, not too cold and not too snowy, smart retailers will encourage shoppers to get out of the comfort of their homes by sending weather-triggered email campaigns. Finding the best email subject lines for retailers isn't that hard.

Some email marketing subject line examples would be:

  • [First Name] The streets are clear. Holidays are near. Come on out and shop small!
  • [First Name], It’s not too cold, and it’s not raining. It’s a great time to stroll Main Street!
  • [First Name], Reminder: snowflakes on your face make your gift-buying magical!

But when it’s really cold, you’ll want to encourage people to stay home instead of going out to eat – unless you are a restaurateur reading this.

When it is really cold, you’ll want to talk about customers shopping in their pajamas on your website and leave going out in the slush to you.

Subject line examples for you might be:

  • [First Name] The weather outside this afternoon is frightful, so shop online with us
  • [First Name] Skip the traffic on the 90; we’ve got everything for your list...and we’re local

You get the idea...

Regarding milder weather merchandising tips for southern regions, shift your promotions to gifts that aren’t only for winter but that make sense year-round, such as music, electronics, sneakers, and jewelry.

Some examples of subject lines in warmer areas might be:

  • [First name] 85 degrees is perfect weather to jog to our store for a pair for your beau
  • [First name] Baby, it’s NOT cold outside
  • [First name] Rain makes our downtown holiday lights sparkle, so come on down

See also, After A Blizzard: 9 Tips For How Retailers Can Get Back To Business

Weather can also affect scheduling and store operations. The key is to leverage your short-term (5-7 day) local forecast to predict foot traffic and adjust weekly schedules as needed.

  • When the weather forecast favors in-store shopping, ask staff to stay for a few extra hours.
  • When road conditions predict slow foot traffic, don’t replace staff who call in sick. And you know they’ll call in sick…
  • When shoppers are few, allocate staff to weather-safety tasks such as clearing the parking lot and walkways, mopping wet entrances, or rearranging displays with weather-related merchandise. After that’s done, role-play common selling situations. Don’t just let them hang out waiting.

Many years ago, Portland was socked with a monster snowstorm the week before Christmas. It overwhelmed snow removal crews. All local merchants could do was send out emails and try to get the news that they were open. Fortunately, there is now another way to get the word out - Facebook.

While I think Facebook LIVE videos are the most underutilized marketing channel for retailers, its immediacy can really help you during the holidays.

  • Make a live video showing the streets are open and where to park.
  • Showcase three options for a different recipient each day.
  • Make a live video behind the scenes showing gift-wrapping and online fulfillment.

The possibilities are endless when your goal is to deal with the weather actively.

In Sum

We are moving into a new era where data is shaping business. Many retailers are using the power of forecasting to predict staffing, merchandising, and marketing proactively. Use these tips to leverage the weather in your locale. Technology insights are the new competitive weapon in so many ways.

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