What does ‘the Beast from the East’ mean for retailers?

By | 2 minute read | March 9, 2018

The Beast from the East was undoubtedly a unique weather event in Europe. But it might not seem so special in years to come.

It hasn’t been an easy time to be a retailer in Europe. For several days beginning in late February, a severe weather front, nicknamed the “Beast from the East” because of its origins in Siberia, sent temperatures plummeting in Europe and unleashed a devastating torrent of snow, freezing rain and wind to parts of the continent unaccustomed to extreme winter weather. Rome, for example, saw snow for the first time in six years.

“In terms of the scale, the literal spread of the cold weather, it was pretty unprecedented,” said Mark Stephens-Row, a sales engineer for The Weather Company in the U.K.

Britain was particularly hard hit. Train and subway service was delayed, flights were cancelled, and drivers were left stranded on highways. In rural areas, the military dropped emergency supplies for stranded residents by helicopter.

Not exactly ideal conditions for a shopping excursion. Consumers, consequently, largely stayed home.

Low footfall during the week translated into low earnings for retailers. The major British department store chain John Lewis, for one, reported that sales in the week to March 3 were down 14.4 percent year on year. Similar setbacks across the industry came at a particularly bad time in Britain, where retailers are already facing falling consumer spending and rising inflation.

One analyst estimates the weather may have set U.K. retail sales back about 500 million pounds, or $688.7 million.

The Beast from the East was undoubtedly a unique weather event in Europe. But it might not seem so special in years to come.

“There is certainly some empirical evidence to suggest that extremes of weather are becoming more frequent,” Stephens-Row said. “You may see more and longer cold spells in winter and similarly more and longer hot spells in the summer.”

European retailers can’t change the weather, Stephens-Row said, but they can “mitigate the impacts” of weather. How? The key, simply enough, is good weather forecasting.

Armed with the kind of comprehensive, hyperlocal data that only The Weather Company can provide, retailers can determine how best to allocate staff based on footfall projections. They can also better communicate with customers by tailoring marketing messages to accommodate conditions on the ground as they change. Supply chain managers around the world, meanwhile, can better foresee disruptions and adapt accordingly.

The wisest European retailers, Stephens-Row said, will choose not to see the Beast from the East as an exceptional event, but rather as a sign of a new normal that requires businesses to become more resilient through new technologies and stronger data.

“All businesses will need to be mindful in the future of the impact of weather on their businesses. Sometimes it’s small changes they can make, but they can have a significant impact,” he said.