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BRC footfall figures offer fresh confirmation of move away from the high street and towards online this Christmas

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Fresh confirmation of a trend away from the high street and towards online this Christmas came today, with British Retail Consortium footfall figures that showed a 4% fall in the number of people visiting the high street over Christmas. Retailers, said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson are now transforming their businesses to reflect the new way that shoppers are buying, and she called for the government to rebalance business rates so they affect stores and online more equally.

The BRC-Springboard Footfall/Vacancies Monitor for December 2015 found retail visitor numbers fell by 2.2% in December, compared with a year earlier. The high street was particularly hard hit, with numbers down by 4% on last year, while shopping centre footfall was 2% down. Retail parks, however, showed growth, with visitor numbers up by 2.1%.

The longer-term three-month average showed retail footfall down by 1.6% between October and December 2015. High street footfall over that period was down by 2.9%, shopping centre by 2% while retail park footfall was up by 2.3%.

Dickinson said: “Shopper footfall shrivelled once again last month and at a faster rate than compared to the three-month average. December was the ninth consecutive month in which shopper footfall has declined, with high streets in particular but also shopping malls continuing to fare poorly. In contrast retail parks once again witnessed footfall growth.

“Retailers are having to revamp their businesses in order to respond to the profound changes in the way we are all shopping

“This trading environment should also be considered with the impact of the industry’s regulatory burden. BRC analysis shows that the combined cost of policy announcements since the General Election adds up to approximately £14 billion over the next five years. The industry will continue to make the case to government, which has extended its review of business rates to early 2016, to properly look at rebalancing this tax away from property intensive industries in order to ensure that the introduction of the living wage does not have unintended consequences on our local communities and jobs.”

According to previously-released BRC retail sales figures for the month, non-food online sales grew by 15.1% in December, year-on-year, with 19.7% of transactions taking place over the internet. At the same time, retail sales grew by 1% – or 0.1% on a like-for-like basis that strips out the effect of store openings and closures. The BRC findings suggested that click and collect had helped to boost online sales, and that may help explain the rise in footfall at retail parks.

Meanwhile, analysis from IMRG found that mobile commerce was the only real driver of sales growth this Christmas.

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard , said: “The surge in online spending in December clearly impacted heavily on traditional urban retail destinations. The catalyst was the plethora of online discounts on Black Friday which then continued throughout December; the resulting drop of 4% in high street footfall was the most severe since November 2014, and far deeper than the drop of 1.8% in December 2014. Even shopping centres – with their concentration of multiple retailers usually considered to be a safe and reliable option for Christmas shopping – fell victim, with footfall dropping by 2%, a greater decline than the modest 0.1% in December 2014.

“Much has been mentioned of the ongoing success of retail parks over the last two years in growing their shopper base and – whilst the volumes of footfall in these destinations remain far lower than in either high streets or shopping centres – in concert with online, they clearly represent an increasingly strong draw for shoppers.

“Whilst urban destinations undoubtedly have long term immovable constraints in terms of their built fabric, retailers trading in these locations need to harness the opportunities created by the new shopping reality – a demand for greater convenience, choice and customer service – and deliver offers and environments that excite and entertain shoppers, so incentivising them to abandon the sofa and tablet for the store.”

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