Chaos theory has been illustrated by one of its pioneers as “the fluttering of a butterfly’s wing in Rio de Janeiro, amplified by atmospheric currents, could cause a tornado in Texas two weeks later” – Dr. Edward Lorenz (Nader, 1996). This illustrates the unpredictability of the future, as a small disturbance to the environment such as a delicate butterfly flapping its wings could cause an effect so profound as a destructive tornado. Chaos Theory’s origins are often used specifically to describe atmospheric science, showing the difficulty in being able to make a long-term weather forecast. With January days in New York in the 60’s followed by a pending snow storm the next week, one can relate to the disorderly behavior of the environment.
Dr. Lorenz was my mentor’s (Dr. Alan Robock) mentor when I studied meteorology. But as I moved to digital marketing, I began to ruminate over the correlation between unpredictable atmospheric conditions and consumer habits, and how to better optimize for that relationship. Advertisers have already been leveraging the weather but still have a basic understanding of how it interacts with consumers and are unable to quantify the relationship. Curiosity made me start to wonder, do rainy days drive more people to shop online?
IBM currently uses cognitive computing to create actionable intelligence on weather forecasts. They collect data to help marketers better engage consumers at the right moments by understanding the emotions and behaviors that the weather creates. They achieved an “11.5% increase in market share for a pharma brand who discovered how, where and when to reach allergy sufferers” (IBM, 2017). IBM’s work on this subject has been possible because specific weather variables and their effect on human nature have been observed. A well-established connection is that as consumers are exposed to more sunlight, they are more willing to make purchases (Murray, DiMuro, Finn, & Leszczyc, 2010; Hirshleifer & Shumway, 2003; Busse, Pope, Pope, & Silva-Risso, 2014). More technical, the level of serotonin (which regulates happiness and mood) rises with prolonged and increased exposure to sunlight (Lambert, Reid, Kaye, Jennings, & Esler, 2002).
What about a lack of sunshine or the presence of inclement weather/rain? It is obvious how the physical deterrents of foul weather will keep consumers at home and affect a store’s foot traffic (Parsons, 2001) but do these shoppers then go home to shop online? To answer this question, one should look to the impact of rainy days on traffic to an e-commerce website. The relationship can be quantified by looking at the severity of precipitation on days it rains mapped with the number of visitors to the website. This information will be useful because with such a chaotic atmosphere, there may be opportunities to better utilize the weatherobservations (daily to weekly fluctuations) instead of optimizing only based on the traditional climatic information (longer, easily observed seasonal trends).
I found through my own research that as there is more precipitation, there is less traffic to a website. For example, one of the e-commerce companies I studied had over 15,000 website visitors in a day and ample data for specific geographic locations. Then downloading data that shows the number of visitors to the website daily from one area (I choose New York, NY), I could pair that data set with the total daily rainfall at that location. As precipitation increased, there was a statistically significant and decreasing linear trend in the amount of visitors to the website. The null hypothesis was that there is no effect. I received a low p-value (0.014) which suggests we can reject that null hypothesis and there is evidence of a relationship between precipitation and traffic to the website (negative since the slope is downward). More detail on my study (which looked at data for three different websites in three different verticals and found similar trends as well as unique behavior with respect to industry and extreme events like hurricanes) will hopefully be posted at another date when approved/completed.
My results indicate that days with larger precipitation events have less traffic to an e-commerce website - rainy days drive less people to shop online. The weather may prevent someone from traveling to the store, but they do not necessarily go home to then shop online. An explanation lies in the characteristics of rainy days. The correlation between sky cover that is overcast (the term to describe the lack of sunshine on a rainy day) during precipitation events may be the culprit. It has also been found that rainy weather may have a negative effect upon the mood of an individual (Persinger & Levesque, 1983; Conlin, O'Donoghue, & Vogelsang, 2007; Hsiang, Burke, & Miguel, 2013). But what is interesting and unique to my study was that the severity of rain seems to play a factor in the amount of traffic to an e-commerce website. As rain increases, less people are visiting an online store/website.
With the expectation of heavier precipitation events for the United States in the chaotic future (Pachauri & Reisinger, 2007), we can possibly expect more days with above average rain and below average traffic to an e-commerce website. If you run a paid marketing campaign, and we know that the mood to convert could be lower on rainy days, you may want to do some test and make some adjustments to your bid strategy. Perhaps we should revisit the term “save for a rainy day” and make it “save on a rainy day”.
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