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How to Weatherproof Your Retail Business

The headlines this week are wailing “Retailers See Red Down As Warm Weather Melts Hopes For A Cozy Christmas!”  Yes, it’s warm. Unseasonably, unreasonably, warm. Here on the east coast where we’re basking in the 60s and 70s, nodding about climate change and complaining how difficult it is to get into the Christmas spirit when it’s so warm outside (never mind the fact that for a good chunk of the U.S., this is winter-as-usual and they don’t seem to have any problem getting their holly-jolly on.)

All climate change concerns aside, the real panic is at the store level where retailers are overstocked with cold-weather wear and pushing parkas, boots and sweaters out the door at deep, deep discounts.For purveyors of perennial winter gear like LL Bean and Lands End, those down-filled comforters can wait in the warehouse for next winter. But for most retailers, those piles of fleece pajamas and fur-lined boots are yours to markdown until they move.

Those of us who survived the Boston Snowmageddon of last year are all “Just you wait … Winter is Coming...” and see no reason for retailers to write off the cold just yet. But as warm-temps wallop an already soft retail market, we at ThoughtWorks can’t help but wonder, what does it take to weatherproof your business?

  1. Smart analytics that can data-science the heck out of year-over-year purchase trends by zone, mixing in weather patterns and predictions to provide a better seasonal plan.
  2. On-demand manufacturing. For brands like Shoes of Prey, this is easy. For retailers who have to place big orders months in advance, the pressure will be on brands and suppliers to offer more flexible manufacturing options.
  3. Unified Inventory, which allows you to gain visibility across your entire supply chain. Being able to track shipments, storage and stock levels regardless of location (vendor, in-transit, warehouse, in-store) is critical to deliver the omnichannel experience today’s customers expect and demand.  Guess what, it also allows you to more quickly move products to the front of the warehouse, store or website in response to rising or
  4. A website that works. We’re not just talking about load-bearing websites that stand up to Black Friday traffic, but a dynamic system that allows your product, merchandising and marketing teams to create highly personalized and relevant offers, assortments and online displays that meet customer need – by size, style, personal preferences, geography, and seasonal anomalies. 

There will always be a degree of unpredictability in retail but the better prepared you are for change of any kind – be it economic, cultural, climate or otherwise – the more enduring your business will be.