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PEAK 2019 How cross-channel retail spending, discounting – and returns – played out this Christmas

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In today’s peak 2019 round-up we focus on how shoppers bought over Christmas week 2019, on how far retailers discounted – and on expected levels of returns.

Footfall declines over the Christmas period…

In-store visitor numbers fell in the the post-Christmas period compared to the same time last year, according to figures from Springboard. 

Footfall was down by an average of 4% between December 26 and January 1, compared to same time in the previous year, the retail intelligence specialist found. The one day of positive growth was December 30 (+11.1%) – but Springboard said that this may was likely because the day fell on a Monday rather than a Sunday, as in 2018. On Boxing Day, footfall was down by an overall 8.6%, with declines affecting high streets (-11.3%), retail parks (-4.2%) and shopping centres (-7.4%).

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said that the figures suggest that consumers were “increasingly using Boxing Day primarily for leisure purposes, going out to eat or to the cinema, but possibly combining this with a visit to retail stores rather than shopping being the main focus of the trip.”

Earlier Springboard figures showed footfall down by 7.8% on Christmas Eve compared to Christmas Eve last year, and by 6% compared to the previous day, December 23.

…while online discounting grows

Boxing Day discounts were bigger in 2019 (average 38% discount) than a year earlier (average 36% discount) as retailers pulled out all the stops to offer deals that were better than Black Friday (average 36% discount), according to sales aggregator Love the Sales. 

Just over half (51%) of all online retail products were discounted for Boxing Day 2019 – ahead of the 47% that were discounted on Boxing Day 2018. Love the Sales predicted that shoppers would spend £1.7bn at UK retail websites on Boxing Day – up by 55% from £1.1bn a year earlier.

Meanwhile, the latest BRC-Nielsen Shop Price Index for December, published today, saw discounting continue in December – with shop prices down by 0.4% on the same time last year. That was after a November in which prices were down by an average 0.5%. 

In December, the analysis found, shop prices of non-food goods were down by 1.5% on the previous year, but food inflation was steady at 1.6% growth.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Shop prices continued to fall in December as receding inflationary pressures, weak consumer demand and intense competition combined to keep price increases at bay. 2019 has been a particularly challenging year, with historically weak sales growth. Food inflation was steady as pressures from the global market trickled down to the consumer, however, at 1.4% it was a modest increase compared to historic inflation rates. As non-food retailers competed for discretionary spend, they have felt the brunt of weak sales. It is no surprise that December non-food prices fell significantly below the 12-month average for the fifth consecutive month as retailers pushed discounts in one last attempt to entice Christmas shoppers.” 

Mike Watkins, head of retailer and business insight at Nielsen, said: “The competition for the discretionary spend of shoppers intensified in December and discounts were deeper and began earlier, as retailers had to work even harder to keep customers shopping due to weak consumer demand. The continued deflation in non-food may have helped sales on the high street, however many supermarkets faced with weak volume growths reduced prices in the run up to Christmas to give a short-term boost to sales.”

High levels of returns expected

Returns were expected to peak yesterday (Thursday January 2) as shoppers returned unwanted Christmas gifts. Royal Mail has dubbed the day Takeback Thursday, predicting that online returns would be 72% up compared to the average number of parcels returned each day in December. A Royal Mail study found that three in five online shoppers would be unlikely to use a retailer again if they had a difficult returns experience, with the most important elements of returns cited as speed – important for 76% of respondents – clearly posted returns information (73%) and clear guidance about which returns labels to use (72%). 

A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “With the festive season now over, January is the busiest time of the year for returns. Having a clear, user-friendly returns policy has never been more important. It is a vital part of the online shopping experience. For retailers, ensuring their returns experience is in line with consumers’ expectations is key. Over a third of shoppers would purchase more items if a ’try before you buy’ option was available from a retailer, so it’s important to consider putting such a service at the heart of your returns offering.”

Image: Fotolia

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