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Changing role of high street in multichannel age

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The changing role of the high street is illustrated through new British Retail Consortium (BRC) figures that show visitor numbers falling as online sales rise. But, argues the BRC , this is evidence of better-planned shopping trips, rather than a wholesale move away from shops.

The number of visits to shops fell by 2.4% in December, according to today’s BRC/Springboard Footfall Monitor for December 2012. The biggest loser was the high street, where visits fell by 3.7% last month, the greatest fall since August 2012. But trips to shops were down across the board, with out-of-town centres seeing visits down by 0.6% and shopping centres down by 1.5%.

The trend is confirmed by three-month average figures: between October and December 2012, retail footfall fell by 2.7%, with the high street down by 3.8%, out-of-town down by 1.2% and shopping centres down by 1.8%.

The figures, said BRC director general Helen Dickinson, reflected changes in the way we shop.

“These figures highlight how the rapid evolution of multichannel is changing the face of shopping, particularly at Christmas,” she said. “Rather than making multiple trips to the shops over the festive period, many of us planned ahead for our gift buying and took advantage of retailers’ investment in services like click and collect so that they could cover off their festive spending at their convenience.”

She said the timing of Christmas meant that many held off spending until the final few days.

“We saw in last week’s sales figures that the final result was respectable overall with multichannel the story of the season,” said Dickinson. “These figures similarly highlight that continuing caution and changing spending habits were central themes of Christmas trading in 2013.”

Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, said: “Unfortunately, November’s warning of a challenging Christmas trading period came to pass. Footfall increased over the month from November, but the uplift was just not enough to deliver an increase from December 2012 and footfall dropped annually by -2.4%.

“The drop in footfall was double that of December 2012, but unlike last year, high streets bore the brunt, with an annual decline of more than double that in shopping centres. The combination of the emphasis by retailers to drive online sales and the discounting introduced by retailers early on the month meant shoppers delayed visits to retail destinations until as late as possible which adversely affected footfall early on in the month.”

The last weekend before Christmas, she said, was adversely affected by stormy weather that dissuaded shoppers from venturing out.

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