We’re approaching that time of year where abrupt swings in temperature result in abrupt swings in consumer demand and purchase behavior. This is a natural function of the changing seasons when relatively cool and cloudy weather signals to consumers that it’s time to break out supplies (and credit cards) and prepare for fall.
It’s generally a hopeful time where fresh breezes and cool mornings create a sense of optimism and renewal – particularly if the summer extends into September (like it is now).
The specific weather variables that kick off fall sales are a function of geography, calendar and precursor weather.
From a geographic perspective, the specific weather event that triggers the start to fall buying is typically either cooler than normal temperatures or cooler than recent (precursor) temperatures.
The abrupt swing is what turns on demand, and during the fall these kind of swings can be, and often are, quite dramatic and the impact on sales can be huge.
The actual temperature is not as important as the relative temperature. That’s why you can have strong demand for sweaters in Atlanta when overnight lows are in the high 50s, while in Chicago (on the same day) temperatures need to drop into the high 40s or low 50s before demand is triggered.
From a demand perspective ,these volatility swings represent the sweet spot in terms of anticipating upticks in demand and sales of fall products, particularly apparel. But, they also trigger demand for fall lawn & garden products, consumables like soups and stews, coffee (high temps below 69 tend to boost coffee sales), and even early winter outdoor products.
The September Hat Trick
This specific weekend represents the first taste of fall for a large part of the central and even the eastern US with 35 to 40% of U.S. households enjoying the first hint of fall-like weather of the season.
With this change we will also be seeing a sharp uptick in demand for fall merchandise.
Unfortunately this will be a short-lived demand spike, as temperatures will rebound by early next week and an extended period of relatively warm temperatures will set in once again.
Expect an October Surprise
With the milder second half of September sales trends for all things fall will pull back as people generally purchase seasonal products only when it feels, well, seasonal. The buy now / use now trend continues to play a huge role in purchase timing and this is also what is reenforcing the importance of weather as a demand predictor.
The great news for retailers (and consumers for that matter) is that by the time we get into October, we will be moving into a period with a very easy year-over-year comparison to last year. Last year was literally the third warmest October on record and that resulted in a significant slowdown in retail sales.
So for this October, even milder than normal temperatures will result in cooler year–over-year weather which will result in much stronger demand for fall seasonal items, and conversely, much stronger sales.
Combine that easy comparison with pent-up demand due a slow down in weather-driven demand during the warm second half of September, and all systems are go for a surprisingly strong retail sales environment in October. This is a really good thing as November is looking now like it may be significantly warmer than last year, which may very well delay purchases of winter items.
I’ll have more on that over the next few weeks.