Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Understanding Seasonality: Understanding Consumers (Part III)

But the cyclical flow of the seasons does more than direct financial markets. A growing body of evidence supports the thought that seasons play a large role in complicated human behavior – well beyond wardrobe choices and vacation selections. The Hordaland Health Study, which surveyed nearly 30,000 Norwegians, found that seasonality was positively associated with levels of both anxiety and depression. Test subjects with even a low degree of seasonality experienced higher levels of depressive symptoms between the months of November and March than other months. The Hordaland Study is a convincing argument in support of the “Winter Blahs” and the reason you may have difficulty leaving the safe, warm cocoon of your bed for much of January.

Another, even more poignant study by the Norwegians (who seem to have a penchant for examining the effects of seasonality) found dramatic ties between the seasons and physical health. Conducted by the University of Bergen in April of 2010, the study included nearly 12,000 subjects between the ages of 40 and 44. Changes in season, it was found, were positively associated with fluctuations in waist-hip ratios, body mass index, triglyceride levels, and high cholesterol in men. Women were no more immune to changes in the season: for example, seasonality was found to be a key determinant in their levels of exercise and cigarette smoking. The report ends with the conclusion that seasonality is “associated with objective health risk factors”, as well as “health behaviors associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases” (Oyane).

Often lying behind such season-based behaviors are physiological and emotional causes. Our attempts to regulate winter reductions in sunlight through artificial illumination and temperature controls lead to various changes in body temperature, making it difficult for human beings to regulate hormone production. This can ultimately lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression that occurs in relation to the seasons. It is noted that a rare form of SAD occurs in the summer. No word as to whether or not “Summer SAD” has taken hold in Norway, but doubtless it has been studied.

The way seasonality impacts product sales are at once obvious and little understood. Despite marketers’ best efforts to “smooth out” sales or create “tent posts” during the off-season, revenues for most categories follow familiar seasonal tendencies. Nearly half of consumer electronic sales are registered in November and December of each year, when holiday gift giving and year-end close outs abound. The majority of paint, wall covering, and home improvement product sales come in the summer months when homeowners can more comfortably spend time outside. Dog treats have no such seasonal trend as dogs, it has been found, eat and enjoy treats all year round. But sales patterns, especially for long established categories, are easily tracked and plotted and predicted. This much is well known.