Like most retailers, Walmart has been basing decisions on weather data for years in obvious ways, such as putting up umbrella or snow-shovel displays in advance of rain or snow.
But now, in the second year of an extensive partnership with the Weather Co., the Earth's largest retailer is delving far deeper into sometimes unlikely correlations between weather and store sales on a Zip Code level. Even when those correlations make no obvious sense, Walmart has been acting on them with store-level merchandising and hyper-local digital advertising -- and achieving big results, according to U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Quinn.
In recent talks at the University of Arkansas' Center for Retail Excellence fall conference, at the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing Conference in Orlando, and with Ad Age, Mr. Quinn revealed some of the unusual weather-purchase relationships his team has discovered.
"We didn't know, for example, that when it's low wind, that has some impact on whether or not people will eat berries," Mr. Quinn said at the University of Arkansas Oct. 9. Ideal berry weather turns out to be low wind with temperatures below 80 degrees. So, Walmart has begun serving up merchandising displays and digital ads for berries in Zip Codes where such weather exists, and as much as tripling berry sales when it does, he said.
Walmart also has found people are more likely to eat steak when it's warm out with higher winds but no rain, but not if it gets too hot. On the other hand, ground beef does better with higher temperature, low wind, and mostly sunny conditions. Salads sell better when the temperature tops 80 but winds are low. "You don't necessarily have to know why," Mr. Quinn said. "Just serve up the hamburger ads in those conditions," which he said has led to an 18% improvement in sales.
"We're now able to do this at scale," he said. "So we now can say to a partner, such as Gatorade, that we'll only serve up your ads when it's 95 degrees out."
Walmart has found thousands of such correlations that it's now trying to harness, he said.