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Why it pays to buy weather services

This article highlights the significant benefits of commercial weather services that you just won't get with free weather data

Right across the world, every single day, people make decisions based on the weather - from the clothes we wear, to the places we visit, to the items we buy and the food we eat - not to mention critical business decisions where the weather can impact safety, efficiency and profitability.

While you might know us best as the people behind the weather forecasts that feature on TV, online and on your phone, our forecasting expertise goes much further than this.

Weather intelligence can make a huge difference to business performance and we work across a variety of sectors to support businesses to be safe, efficient and profitable, whatever the weather.

One area where our services are making a real difference to customers is the retail sector.

But why does weather advice matter to retailers? The UK grocery sector is one of the most fiercely competitive areas in retail, as Barbara Napiorkowska, Met Office Retail Business Manager, explains:

"Over the last few years the sector has undergone some significant structural changes including the trends towards multichannel shopping, the rise of discounters and convenience stores, and growth of online shopping.

"Supermarkets invested millions of pounds in price war as competition has intensified. Consumers now also expect to be able to shop anytime and anywhere, which means that product availability is more important than ever for retailers."

Weather impacts sales, footfall and on-shelf product availability, as well as costs and efficiencies of the whole supply chain. It is particularly important in the case of fresh, chilled and seasonal products.

According to a group of leading retail CEOs, weather is the most important external factor influencing sales, after inflation and customer confidence. And, unlike the other two it is one that retailers can influence.

In the UK, 62% of UK adults check the weather on a daily basis. By understanding the impact of weather on shopper behaviour, and getting accurate and reliable weather information at the right time, retailers can stay one step ahead of consumers.

So it's clear that weather matters, and you may already use our weather forecasts for your planning and operations. But what does our retail-specific service offer that you can't already get for free?

Developing a service for retailers, with retailers

Commercial weather services for retailers offer significant benefits you just won't get with free weather data. In fact they provide around 3.8 benefits as opposed to 2.7 benefits you get with free data - and we have the industry research to prove it.

To gain an in-depth understanding of how retailers and suppliers use weather products and data, and the impact of weather on their business, we undertook some industry research which revealed some fascinating insights.

Published in our The role of weather in the supply chain report, the results revealed just how weather-sensitive the food sector is, with conditions affecting everything from sourcing to sales.

Drawing on the research results, and working closely with some of the UK's major food retailers and suppliers, it has been possible for us to develop a comprehensive commercial weather service that addresses key industry challenges.

"The research helped us to better understand the specific weather information our customers need," Barbara explains. "For example, instead of providing forecasts for uninhabited areas, fields or mountains, we'll give a weighted calculation of weather parameters for highly populated areas that are relevant to suppliers and retailers. And we can alert individual customers when the threshold of those parameters will breach so that they can plan product quantities. For example, a temperature rise from 20 °C to 24 °C can see the sales of burgers increase by more than 40%."

Met Office forecasts are also helping companies transporting light cargo in high-sided trucks. Gusts above 50 mph can pull their vehicles off the roads, put their drivers at risk of injury and delay or prevent their products being delivered to stores. "One day last winter, we were 100% confident that wind gusts would breach one particular customer's 50 mph threshold," Barbara remembers. "Our Hazard Forecast alerted them and they actually suspended operations. Later, we heard that seven other trucks were involved in accidents due to the conditions that day."

Our weather service includes a 14-day national forecast with detailed daily breakdowns to give a clear picture of the weather in the long- and short-term. This enables users to see how conditions will change during the course of a day, and help to plan appropriate food stocks when weather conditions change within hours.

They can compare the current temperature with the same day in a previous year, as well as running like-for-like comparisons using a 'model day' - a date in the past that had similar conditions to today. Customers also receive targeted information ahead of major trading events, such as Christmas, Easter or Bank Holidays. What's more, customers can request a direct line to a Met Office forecaster should any questions crop up.

Besides traditional trading events, the first hot weekend of the year triggers an uplift in sales.

Changes in seasons can also trigger a change in consumer behaviour; for example the first hot weekend of the year can see strawberry sales increase by 20%, or barbeque meat by as much as 300%. However, as the start and end of a season can vary by up to six weeks, this can have a significant impact on the timing of such events. We provide alerts to retailers to warn them of changes in weather types that are likely to impact consumer behaviour.

Managing supply and demand

Managing supply and demand is vital for retailers and suppliers. But as supply chains grow in complexity and climate change brings about seasonal weather extremes, it's a challenging balancing act. In fact, 67% of respondents to the Met Office research survey say that forecasting demand is becoming harder.

However, by harnessing weather data, businesses can forward plan - scheduling marketing campaigns, delivering goods efficiently, cutting waste and meeting consumer demand. In fact, as Barbara points out, "By having the right levels of products available to their customers for an event like the first hot weekend of the year, some retailers can actually see sales uplift of around 600%." For retailers in today's competitive market, keeping prices low has never been more important.

You can find further information about our services and how to get in touch on the pages below.

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