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Most businesses are aware of the impact that weather can have on sales.

A heavy rainstorm or blizzard can prevent customers from getting out to shop, for example. But a windy, chilly or dull day seems to make people feel less like buying, while a bright, sunny day tends to bring out the shoppers – and opens their wallets.

Tracking and ultimately predicting the effect of weather could allow businesses to maximize sales, as well as ship inventory and schedule staff hours accordingly.

Now an online tool developed and offered for free by Weather Underground will help even small businesses chart these phenomena, applying meteorological data for specific time periods to their sales figures and other factors.

“You can put weather data into your spreadsheets,” says John Celenza, the lead developer for Weather Underground, which is based in San Francisco. “Now you have an information advantage.”

Weather Underground started in 1995 as the first online weather service. Using meteorological data collected worldwide, both recent and historical, the new tool is part of a suite of business services it is offering in areas such as marketing and advertising.

The sales tracker can calculate the correlation between sales figures and weather, ranging from the temperature and precipitation to the wind speed, humidity and dew point. Users input their location and a date range – for example, for the past year. These are plotted into a spreadsheet, which they can download. Then they add their revenues or other figures in-house and look for patterns that can be attributed to the weather.

“There’s tremendous potential for this kind of gadget,” says Dilip Soman, a professor of marketing and strategy in the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Such tools can level the playing field for smaller businesses to research weather effects, he says.

A complex cause-and-effect relationship links weather and shopping, he says. But by and large weather affects mood, making people more positive, trusting and outgoing, behaviours that translate well in the marketplace.

“People in a better mood tend to spend more, and they tend to spend in more categories, and they tend to spend more time spending more,” Dr. Soman says. “People are looking for a reason to go shopping at any given point in time.”

Sunlight can make a big difference.

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Mary Gooderham – Globe and Mail – Thursday, June 7, 2012

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