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Three Tech Lessons This Winter Holds for Retailers


For the past two months, New England has been dealing with an historically snowy, cold winter. As a lifelong resident of the region, I have had time to reflect on a few technology-related lessons retailers can take from my experience as a snowbound consumer.

Factor the Weather into your Planning

Nobody was expecting anything quite as severe as the more than 100 inches of snow New England has received this winter (so far). But as far back as October, local weather forecasters were sounding warnings that the winter would potentially start out mild (it did), but threatened to turn severely cold and snowy by late January (did it ever).

Yet assortments at most local retailers do not reflect the entirely foreseeable situation New England consumers find themselves in. If publicly available forecasts warned of a harsh winter, one can only imagine the precise detail offered by the superior, commercial-grade weather forecasts available from many merchandise planning vendors.

But judging by the springtime assortments that have been on display in area stores for several weeks, a majority of retailers did not localize their New England merchandise plans using any weather contingencies. It’s hard enough to trudge out to a store to buy items that actually suit your surroundings; stocking spring merchandise in Arctic conditions does not help boost already sagging traffic levels.

Distribute your Inventory Management

Speaking of sagging, heavy concentrations of ice and snow can wreak major havoc on roofs. Concerned with the ice and snow piled on top of my house, I checked the website of a major DIY retailer to see a “limited stock” of roof rakes was available at my local store. When I got there, I found out “limited” meant “none, and nothing is coming to this area, either.”

The sites of a few other national DIY chains showed no roof rakes to be found anywhere nearby. And this wasn’t a situation where I could order online and wait. In desperation, I visited a small local hardware store. It had a few roof rakes in stock, along with a helpful customer experience where the owner gave me tips on how to best clear snow off a roof. This is how the little guys stay in business.

The big guys should leverage distributed inventory management to adjust in-store stocks of seasonal items according to real-time local demand variation. Shifts in the jet stream have caused New England to get North Pole weather. Meanwhile, typically frozen locales like Minnesota are basking in the sunshine. Couldn’t a major national chain ship excess winter inventory from stores in the Upper Midwest to stores in New England? The reduction in clearance sales should more than make up for the extra shipping and stocking costs.

Where’s the Winter Beer?

This is a pet peeve. I like craft beers. Craft brewers often release special seasonal versions. The winter varieties tend to come out before Thanksgiving and disappear from shelves shortly after New Year’s. For some time the light-bodied, fruity spring beers have been out. These are great in warm, sunny weather, but do not satisfy a beer aficionado in the midst of cold and gloom.

Here is an instance where retailers and suppliers need to share more data. If convenience, grocery and liquor store retailers used collaborative planning technology to optimize sales cycles with brewers, winter beers would probably be available throughout the winter. And beer is one product that people do not typically look to buy ahead of season.

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