The online Black Friday and Cyber Monday peak shopping events had the effect of bringing forward sales to the beginning of December – but then in-store shopping went into a deep decline, new data suggests.
While visitor numbers in shops rose by 0.1% in the first two weeks of December, this was a short-lived effect that came as a result of the peak discounting events, according to retail intelligence company Springboard. In the third and fourth weeks the month, footfall fell by 6.1%. That decline is nearly three times as large as the drop of 2.2% seen in the same weeks in 2018.
Overall December footfall dropped by 2.5%, according to Springboard. Visitor numbers fell by 3.5% on the high street, by 2.1% in shopping centres, and by 0.5% in retail parks. The study covered the five weeks from November 24 to December 28.
Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, says the fall in the second half of December was more pronounced than in previous years. "The 2.5% drop across UK retail destinations during December was not a surprise as footfall has declined in December in all but one year since 2009," she said. "The challenge for destinations and stores was not only that this was the eighth consecutive year that footfall has decreased in this key trading month, but that it was also at the upper end of the scale in terms of the magnitude of decline."
She added: "The reasons why this occurred are varied by reflect the caution and spending restraint of consumers which typifies low consumer confidence that has been ongoing for the last three years. Even supermarket spending only rose by 0.2% in December, despite food price inflation of 0.9%, with supermarket volume sales dropping by -0.7%, indicating that this restraint also encompassed food and consumables during a month in which food and beverage are key.
"Other influences that will have driven down footfall in stores and destinations during December include the strong shift in consumer demand towards experience/leisure based trips, away from wholly transaction focussed visits. This was evident on Boxing Day when footfall up to 5pm, whilst stores were trading, declined by -10.6%, but post 5pm - when most stores were nearing the end of the trading day – footfall dropped by less than half this at -5.1%, with restaurants and bars benefiting.
"Today’s rather circumspect consumer was clearly demonstrating considered restraint towards their lifestyle and spend decisions over the Christmas period. The growing climate change movement and increased consumer concerns around waste and sustainability is likely to have further limited trips to destinations to make non-essential purchases, thereby diluting footfall even further."
The footfall figures for December come at a time when more shops are shutting as a result of decisions taken last year. Debenhams has started to close department stores as part of its CVA, approved last spring, while Mothercare is closing its UK stores as it becomes a franchising business in the UK rather than a direct retailer. It said late last year that its stores were no longer viable in a discount-driven market. The Centre for Retail Research has predicted that more than 17,000 shops will close this year at a time of changing consumer behaviour that it describes as a retail crisis.