Jan 9, 2018
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UK footfall drops 10% in December but it's still top shopping month

Jan 9, 2018

UK non-food retail footfall dropped by almost 10% over the Christmas trading period. That’s the stark news from Ipsos Retail Performance's latest Retail Traffic Index (RTI) and shows just what a challenge stores are having in attracting shoppers through their doors at what is the busiest time of the year.

Stores resorted to heavy discounts last month to get shoppers through their doors

But the figures also show that December remains the key shopping month and that as e-tail sales surge, retailers need to continue their omnichannel efforts to ensure they’re not missing out.

So what happened last month? Well, the fall wasn’t quite 10%, it was actually 9.6%, but that’s bad enough with footfall in the first week of December being lower than in the previous week for the first time since records began. That happened as late November’s Black Friday frenzy clearly robbed early December of its status as the start of the Christmas shopping season.

The RTI also showed that footfall on Boxing Day was down 5.1% on the previous year and while December 28 managed to be the busiest shopping day of the year, visitor traffic was still 8.6% down year-on-year.

The figures, derived from the number of individual shoppers entering over 4,000 non-food retail stores across the UK, showed the month starting badly and not getting much better. Week-on-week, footfall continued to be subdued “with heavy snowfall keeping people off the high street and adding further misery onto retailers.”

And as that Boxing day dip showed, the clearance sales got off to a lower-than-hoped-for start.

“In the previous few years, shopping habits in the build-up to Christmas have structurally changed,” said Dr Tim Denison, director of retail intelligence at Ipsos Retail Performance.

“Discounting and promotional activity around Black Friday now stretch over a two-week period, pulling forward shopping into November that would normally be done in the run-up to Christmas and the winter sales immediately following.”

Dr Denison said that online has “fundamentally altered the way retailers now need to approach Christmas shopping”. E-sales had added up to 24% of the total in December 2016 and their impact would also have been significant last month. 

But although December footfall to non-food stores has dropped 18% since 2015, it remains the busiest shopping month of the year. December 2017’s footfall was still 24.1% higher compared to November, although the five-year average was for it to be 31.2% higher.

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