According to science, this is the worst time you can go shopping


If the results of a new study are indeed accurate, the businesses of the world may need to adopt a new mantra: Rain, rain go away. Researchers at the University of British Columbia have found that consumers (people) place a much higher value on outdoor goods and products when it’s either sunny or snowing outside. Apparently, the rain just naturally makes us all a bit more inclined to close our wallets.

Weather is a fundamental factor in all of our lives and one of the few forces on this planet that humanity doesn’t have dominion over at this point. We’ve become fairly adept at predicting weather patterns, but they’re still isn’t much we can do but deal with it when mother nature decides to dump two feet of snow on us overnight. Surprisingly, there really hasn’t been all that much marketing research performed on how weather influences buying patterns and shopping decisions.

With this lack of research in mind, the team at UBC’s Sauder School of Business set out to examine how weather fluctuations impact consumer decisions. They discovered that, when it’s sunny or snowing, people tend to visualize themselves using products associated with said conditions. For example, if someone sees a beach chair in a store on a sunny day, they are very likely to visualize themselves lounging in the chair catching some rays. This visualization, according to the study, results in consumers placing a higher value on the products.

Now, hold on, why wouldn’t this theory apply to rainy days as well? Wouldn’t a consumer be just as likely to imagine themselves staying dry when they see a new raincoat on display at the mall on a stormy day?

“We think the mental simulation only works in sunshine and snow because these weather conditions have a positive association with outside activities,” explains JoAndrea Hoegg, study co-author and UBC Sauder associate professor, in a press release. “There are not many activities that are enabled by rain. Most products associated with the rain, such as raincoats and umbrellas, are just to protect oneself against the rain and not to enable activities.”

To be clear, the research team says this effect only appears to be relevant regarding outdoor goods and products. So, you aren’t any more likely to buy that tempting HD television no matter what the weather is like outside.

To research this subject, the study’s authors analyzed over a year’s worth of sales data from a “large online auction site.” Purchases made on that site were cross-referenced against coinciding weather conditions roughly when and where the purchases occurred. The number of online images of each product available to shoppers were also considered, in order to measure “mental simulation.” Basically, researchers worked off of the assumption that the more images available for a product, the easier it would be for shoppers to visualize themselves using it.

In addition, a series of online surveys were conducted that asked participants about the weather at that moment. Then, the respondents were shown a few different goods (both indoor and outdoor), and asked how willing they would be to purchase each product.

Professor Hoegg believes her work may prove invaluable to online retailers. Online stores typically use algorithms to determine which products to display on their homepage and advertise to shoppers, as well as various price points, sales offers, etc. These findings suggest that such retailers would be wise to incorporate daily weather patterns into their algorithm’s considerations. 

Finally, researchers made it a point to note that if a product is especially flimsy, poorly designed, or just generally unattractive, this reported positive weather effect may in fact backfire. If a consumer visualize themself using a low-quality product, they’ll be even more inclined not to buy it.

For those of us on a budget and looking to cut back on spending, perhaps it would be wise to avoid Amazon or eBay on sunny or snowy days.

The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science.