It’s official: February 2019 was the hottest month on record in Britain, the Met Office has confirmed. With temperatures reaching 21.2°C, it was hard to believe that, a year earlier, the country was facing the “Beast from the East”, with heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures. To put in context, the average temperature in February is usually 8°C.
Scientists are reluctant to link one event to climate change without a specific study to prove it, but viewed in lights of other extreme weather reports in the past years, it’s reasonable to consider these high temperatures as part of the issue. After all, the 20 warmest years on record have happened in the last 22 years – and the five hottest years were the last five.
An analysis by the Met Office confirms that British winters have become milder over the past years, a trend that’s set to continue. But what are the real effects of climate change on consumer behaviour and how can they guide retail and hospitality strategies? onefourzero investigates…
The last week of February saw early-blooming flowers, hedgehogs coming out of hibernation… and retailers already displaying garden furniture. The warm weather seems to have inspired Brits to start thinking about their outdoor spaces again, and this was reflected in online searches.
We looked at some of the major home retailers in the UK to check how the percentage of their websites’ traffic has changed in categories such as “garden”, “outdoor furniture” or “BBQs”. Nearly all retailers registered increased traffic in these pages compared to February 2018, with B&Q and John Lewis recording more than double the number of visits. In the first week of March, when temperatures plunged back to what’s considered normal in this time of the year, most websites still featured the garden/outdoor sections as spotlight on the home page.
The increased interest for outdoor spaces isn’t limited to private gardens and terraces. Consumers didn’t waste time and decided to make the most of the unseasoned weather by looking for open places to dine and drink under the sun.
Online searches and social conversations around outdoor spaces such as rooftop bars/restaurants, dining terraces and beer gardens during winter has been increasing consistently for the past years thanks to solutions such as sheltered terraces and outside heaters, but especially in March when the weather naturally starts to become milder. However, the unexpected temperatures this February triggered a record number of online searches for these places, reaching almost double than the same time last year and even more than March.
The warm days of February also affected the Fashion industry, as shoppers started thinking of (and purchasing) spring/summer clothes earlier than usual. We looked at social media to find out how Britons were reacting to the unexpected temperatures and a huge number of excited users were already talking about shorts, spring collections and holiday outfits in general.
It’s also noticeable that, with the exception of 2017, early summer shopping has been a rising trend year on year: 2019 saw a 20% increase in volume of conversations around the topic compared to last year, and nearly double than 2017. Surely this is good news for fashion brands, right?
To find out, we checked some major high-street brands’ website traffic on categories such as “spring collection” and “holidays”, and specific searches such as “shorts” on both men and women’s collections. Whilst most brands didn’t register big changes in searches for summer clothes on their websites during those weeks, some noticed a substancial growth – even if it still represented a timid proportion of overall traffic. H&M, for example, saw a 16% traffic increase in the “women’s shorts” category compared to the same period last year, and nearly three times more in the “men’ shorts” category.
Besides exposing how quickly consumer behaviour can change according to circumstances such as weather, the findings also demonstrate a trend we recently discussed in our menswear report: the surge of online male customers within the fashion industry.
Hot weather equals summer equals holidays, right? The sunny days of late February seem to have inspired Britons to start thinking about the anticipated season. Searches for sun protection products usually starts to pick up at the end of March, but this year Britons revealed a continued interest in SPF creams and lotions throughout since the start of the year, with February registering a 33% increase compared to 2018 and a whopping 89% compared to 2015. Whether this is a result of the milder winter or the fact that the UK is finally learning the importance of sun protection year-round is still to be confirmed, but comes as good news.
On the other hand, the heatwave during late February also resulted in an unexpected number of people suffering from hay fever symptoms earlier than usual. Social media channels were bombarded by annoyed and confused users, who were not expecting to deal with the discomfort until early spring. Reflecting social channels, online searches for information about the condition reached a new record, registering over three times the number usually seen in February and even more than the average in March.
As a result, Boots’ website saw a spike in traffic to their pages dedicated to hay fever and general allergies treatments. It is also interesting to notice that, besides February 2018 when the UK endured the “Beast from the East”, interest for such products continue to increase year on year, indicating that, perhaps, Britain is becoming increasingly more allergic – perhaps a trend to be observed by the pharma industry.
In a recent blog about global travel trends, we revealed that one of the biggest issues in the industry over the next years will be the impact of over-tourism. As concern for the environment increases, so does the public interest for sustainable tourism, and it’s not different in the UK. The unnatural hot weather in February triggered new discussions about climate change and those planning the next holidays seem to have been influenced by it.
We looked at over 350 search terms related to ecotourism and found out that not only did the trend towards green travel continue to grow, but also that searches for such holidays are starting earlier every year. The warm February clearly motivated Britons to start planning their next trip – and it’s more likely to be a green trip.
Just like our planet, the consumer sector is going through a transitional period, and it demands attention. Climate change is undoubtedly affecting consumer behaviour, so the retail and hospitality industries need to be aware and prepared.
To succeed in this ever-changing scenario, companies must prioritise digital to identify customer needs and quickly react to trends. Digital data can look at online demand, customer behaviour, social conversations & sentiment and more, providing valuable answers that will guide business and marketing plans across industries.