If John Lewis did weather forecasts, I'd be the first to sign up
A view from Jamie Peate

If John Lewis did weather forecasts, I'd be the first to sign up

In these turbulent times, the evidence-based predictions in John Lewis's new retail trends report are invaluable, writes the retail planning director at McCann Manchester.

The British weather – as unpredictable as a referendum result or an election. If anything epitomises the difficulty in predicting the future in any sort of useful way, it must surely be the noble art of weather forecasting.

In his 2012 book, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail, Nate Silver, the famous American statistician, devotes a whole chapter to why the weather is difficult to predict, despite our very deep understanding of the processes that drive it.

The answer is "nonlinearity"; the fact that very small changes in your starting assumptions make huge differences, often expressed more dramatically as the fluttering of butterfly wings causing a hurricane.

So it is a delicious irony that the new John Lewis Retail Report on how we shop, live and look in 2016, cites the British weather as a key factor that shaped our behaviour.

The four months of rain at the end of 2015/start of 2016, the mild winter and the cold start to summer all helped drive our shopping habits and choices.

We developed a ‘buy now, wear now’ attitude because we had to literally buy and wear in the moment meaning that the traditional fashion season died a death, and relied more and more on smartphones to help us seek out, compare and buy the things we wanted.

We marketing and communications folk very rarely give time or thought to things like the weather affecting strategies, and ultimately, the sales performance. Yet these external forces do have profound effects and John Lewis really pays attention to them.

The metaphorical storm clouds stirred up by the butterfly wings of Brexit have also driven profound shifts in behaviour such as savvy shopping, small treat purchasing, a growth in ‘British nostalgia’, and the deferring of big ticket item purchasing.

As we move into even more uncertain waters in 2017 these are definitely not going to go away.

We all crave certainty and direction, even more so when the world seems more and more uncertain and unpredictable. What to wear, what not to wear, what colour our new sofa should be, should hair be straight or curly, are selfies in or out?

These choices define our lives and we endlessly seek guidance on them to relieve our own decision fatigue, hence the proliferation of blogs, vlogs, Instagram guides and futurologists all bursting with advice as to what and what not to do.

Campaign’s very own Helen Edwards recently commented in her regular column, these predictors need to offer both evidence (what is this all based on?) And implication (what does this mean?) Which is why the John Lewis report is such a good one and worth a read over your skinny latte - or is it a flat white?

John Lewis bases its report on what they have seen in their stores over 2015/2016 – real behaviour by real shoppers, buying real stuff – not trends spotted by street scouts or the musings of qualitative researchers.

They are seeing what has performed and not performed and what channels are being used and in what way.

Their future predictions are born of this information and also of the years of experience accumulated by their buyers, their merchandisers, and market intelligence such.

The fact that we Brits live in the smallest living spaces in Europe (92% of the minimum recommended space) means storage and compact living is a key driver for homeware purchases.

So if you have not already done so, I urge you all to read it and ponder on what they say happened in 2016 and might happen in 2017. It is an excellent and informative read based on real data and real experience. In my book, that makes it something worth paying attention too, even if it means taking your future style tips from Theresa May.

Personally I’m holding out for the launch of the John Lewis weather service – I would sign up to that straight away and plan all my shopping trips and wardrobe around it.

Jamie Peate is retail planning director at McCann Manchester and global retail lead at McCann Wordgroup UK