How the Weather Channel helps retailers predict what you’ll buy next

BY newsdesk  December 2, 2013 at 1:03 PM EST

Video by NYC Media Lab

The weather can influence our decisions as consumers. Cold weather could compel you to purchase a new coat, while warmer temperatures might encourage you to skip the hot tea. The influence of weather on our buying decisions can be as complicated and predictable as the weather itself.

The Atlantic talked with Vikram Somaya, the general manager of the Weather Company’s advertising division, on why marketers for airlines, insurance companies and retailers are turning to WeatherFX for ever-more specific weather data. The influence of weather on retail goes beyond a department store setting up umbrellas near the cash register when it rains.

“Retail is an easy example. We have a retailer who may have a couple hundred or even a couple thousand stores across the U.S. We take data from each of those locations for each of their products, then we look at the information over time,” Somaya told The Atlantic. “We are looking to see what products start jumping off shelves when the dew point is X, the temperature is Y, and the rainfall is Z. What we give them is essentially: ‘Here are the 15 products you should be selling right now.’”

But, the dew point? Somaya said that small differences in dew point affects, for example, insect activity and, thus, the demand for bug spray.

When asked about the potential for a backlash against this type of data-mining, Somaya said that “there are no feelings of privacy violation in telling that weather conditions are going to be X, Y, or Z … The data are allowing people to be safer, or be smarter, or dress better, or eat better.”