Snow business

<p>Forget the Costas or the recession&mdash;the big story this week is the snow and what it will do to book sales. In my former life on <i>Retail Week</i> I soon came to understand how important the weather was for most retailer sectors, and the next few days will be a good test, for me anyway, of how much impact it has on selling books.</p>
<p>Weather matters across retail because of the way it changes consumer behaviour. At an obvious level, wet days keep people off the high street, and if they venture out at all it will be to a shopping centre. Hot weather is traditionally very bad for department stores because they become unbearably warm.</p>
<p>More scientifically, the big supermarket groups employ private weather forecasters as well as the Met Office to work out what to stock: changes of only a few degrees can double or treble demand for picnic or barbeque ingredients in the summer, while cold weather is catnip for soups and puddings.</p>
<p>Fashion chains pray for cold winters, crisp autumns, sunny springs and hot summers. In recent years (although not this one) the fashion world had become concerned that warm, wet winters and cool, wet summers were blending the seasons to the extent that seasonal collections themselves would become obsolete. Certainly, the traditional men&rsquo;s winter suit of thick wool or tweed has pretty much been killed off by central heating, as has the heavy overcoat.</p>
<p>At the basic level of making people less likely to venture out, the next few days are bound to be particularly quiet for most high street chain stores and independents. With the rail network unreliable, and airports closed, W H Smith Travel will have few customers&mdash;but given the delays they are experiencing I would expect individuals to be spending more.</p>
<p>Amazon and the online contingent may benefit from house-bound people surfing the web, but potential buyers may be worried the post will not get through with the book, and certainly Amazon is warning of one or two-day delivery delays. Twenty-first century retail, 19th-century delivery network.</p>
<p>My suspicion is that <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8443791.stm">supermarkets will be least badly affected</a>, not least because that is the one shopping trip pretty much everybody has to make.</p>
<p>Perhaps the one silver lining to snow-bound Britain is that people will have plenty of time to read over the next few days, and they will want to replenish their stock of books once the weather lifts. Certainly one hopes no-one will resort to the desperate measures adopted to the hard-up pensioners of Swansea, who have apparently taken to hoovering up cheap books from second-hand shops and burning them to keep warm. Encyclopaedias are highly prized for their slow-burning properties. Still, it&rsquo;s either that or the re-tarring the M6 I suppose . . .<br />
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