How to profit from the ultimate big data source: The weather

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That itch in your throat and those watery eyes? Merck, which makes the allergy pill Claritin, anticipated your hay fever and--a year ago--started making plans to capitalize on it. With a subscription to specialized weather forecasts, Merck knew way back last July that this March would be unseasonably cold in most of the U.S., leaving many allergens dormant. Then, quite quickly, May would bring lots of warmth, pollen and spores.

Merck shared its weather intelligence, based on temperature and moisture data correlated to customer behavior by ZIP code, with Wal-Mart. Together they decided to boost promotions and supplies of Claritin and other allergy products at the time when you were desperately ready to buy.

"The upside is potentially millions of dollars in additional sales," says Debbie Sonnentag, Merck Consumer Care's director of category development for Wal-Mart.

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