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A collaborative way of working

The weather has a big influence on people’s daily activities – from what they wear and how they travel, to the food they buy. So for retailers, having accurate information is vital to help them meet their customers’ needs. Our Expert Partners campaign is shining a light on how the Met Office is working with companies including Marks & Spencer to create bespoke weather services that keep them a step ahead of customer demand.

With online shopping and ever-more options on the high street, customers expect to be able to buy exactly what they want, when they want.

While the average consumer might not be aware of how the weather influences their choices, retailers like M&S know all too well about the huge impact it can have on their sales. As vast supply chains sit behind every well-stocked shelf, being able to plan ahead is vital for reducing running costs.

“We’ve been working with M&S for more than three years,” says Barbara Napiorkowska, Business Manager for the retail sector at the Met Office. “We felt the Expert Partners campaign was a great opportunity to talk not just about the services we provide them with, but our collaborative way of working with them.”

Collaborating to create bespoke services

On the surface, it might seem obvious that customers look for light food in warmer weather and hearty comfort food when it’s cold.

But are people choosing fresh fruit and salads, or sandwiches? Soups, pasta dishes or pies? What about if it’s a warm day, but due to rain later? Or if it’s cool now, but there’s a heatwave expected at the weekend?

When the weather’s as changeable as it is in the UK, planning around it starts to look a lot more challenging. For M&S, that means calling on more detailed information than a typical, day-to-day weather forecast.

“Working together with the Met Office, we’ve created specific models to help us predict and better understand what customers want to buy when the weather changes,” explains Andy Bowsher, Central Forecast and Inventory Manager at M&S.

This collaborative process began with Met Office experts talking to M&S to find out more about their decision-making processes, how their supply chains work and what their key business drivers are. As Barbara points out, “It’s vital we understand how a business operates, then we can understand how we can work together to provide the most appropriate services for them.”

“Working together with the Met Office, we’ve created specific models to help us predict and better understand what customers want to buy when the weather changes.”

For M&S, this includes a detailed weather briefing integrated into their daily demand planning process. “We start each day with a conference call where Met Office forecasters will talk us through the weather for the next seven days,” says Andy from M&S.

“We then discuss the likely impact the weather will have on planned product volumes that we already have in the system. This information is vital as it helps us make decisions about varying volumes and making changes to what we place out in stores.”

With timely advice, it’s possible to make changes to stock orders just one day in advance. Having this collaborative, reactive relationship in place means M&S can make their supply chain more efficient, reduce the amount of food thrown away and make sure customers can easily find the products they want.

Digging deep with data analytics

To build a more detailed picture of how weather influences customer behaviour, we are planning to look at M&S’s past sales data, and compare it to weather forecasts to identify any correlation. This will enable us to develop models based on specific parameters relevant to M&S – and introduce new capabilities for M&S – from understanding the effect of sunlight hours on sales, to how rainfall can drive footfall to specific stores.

Having such a close understanding of M&S’s needs means that the Met Office is continually looking for ways to improve the services we offer. For example, with supply chains becoming more complex and tied to global issues such as climate change, the Met Office is exploring longer-term forecasts and consultancy services for the retail sector.

As Barbara points out, “Whatever we do, it’s all delivered in a collaborative way where we work together with the customer to make sure our services always meet their needs.”