Groundhog Day, Weather and Online Shopping!

Published by: Derek Bell

2016.02.02

This time of year, with limited daylight hours and damp and dreary weather, it is not difficult at all to see why the ritual event of Groundhog Day was created.

According to this centuries old American and Canadian tradition, for those who aren’t familiar with it or haven’t seen the movie (a ‘must watch’ if you haven’t), the groundhog is pulled out from his warm cosy winter den – to see what he can see.

If he doesn’t see his shadow, then – happy days – one can expect an early Spring. If by chance, he does see his shadow though, then he retreats back to his den and there are 6 more delightful weeks of winter to be expected.

Grant you, this is not what some would call a ‘scientific approach’, but mankind has all kinds of bizarre ways of livening things up to break free from the monotony of life lived in limited daylight hours.

For some marketers and businesses, this innate human desire to spice things up has, interestingly enough, something in common with online shopping and ultimately represents an opportunity in disguise – a ‘glass half full’ approach if you will. 

The glass half empty view, of course, is that with an ever-increasing capacity to purchase goods online, consumers no longer need to go to the actual store location to purchase many types of products.

But the glass half full view holds that on a cold, dark, and rainy day, shoppers have more time to be online (making purchases) and less desire to go out.  One could quite easily surmise that online sales would increase.  Online food shopping in particular must be in high demand.  Anyone who has gone to SuperValu’s online shopping on a rainy Saturday typically will find most delivery slots booked up for the next few days.

The effects of weather on traditional in-store consumer spending are becoming more well known in the retail industry.

In 2010, a study out of Canada posited that the effect of weather – temperature especially – on consumer spending is mediated by negative effect. If the temperature goes up, negative effect decreases. If temperature goes down, negative effect increases. This negative effect impacts the psyche of consumers, with an increase in negative effect resulting in – you guessed it – people feeling negative (ie they pull Groundhogs out of the ground).

Consumers, however, generally spend more when they feel positive.

This varies from country to country. Research by Footfall, for example, shows there is a tendency to retreat to shopping centres in the presence of rain – while staying at home with colder temperatures.

There is less known about the effect this has on online sales – and especially the consumer psychology that is driving it.

There certainly are indications through digital channels that online sales increase as temperature decreases.

The reasons why are less conclusive.

Do we turn to our broadband connection and use online shopping as our outlet for breaking up this monotony?  If so, then why?  Does it affect certain demographics more than others (it probably does)?  And if so – then which ones?

Most of the time, consumers make erratic decisions for reasons even they may not fully understand.

However, people tend to think more analytically in the presence of bad weather and perhaps are more strategic in their purchases. Online purchasing seems to fall in line with this mind set.

At first glance, pulling a groundhog out of the ground doesn’t seem like a very analytical or logical thing to do. But perhaps, like online shopping, consumers do it just to make the day seem a little brighter.

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