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Peak 2021 Counting down to Christmas

Our Peak 2021 round up reports on the final run-up to Christmas 2021 and rounds up the latest figures on peak trading so far. 

Are shoppers shifting online? 

Fewer people are visiting the high street in the run up to Christmas, according to recent footfall figures. There are suggestions that shoppers are going online to buy instead, and ParcelHero says says ecommerce retailers and couriers are now seeing a 17% surge in orders for late gift deliveries.

ParcelHero head of consumer research, David Jinks says: “The arrival of Omicron is nightmare timing for High Street retailers, with the retail analyst Springboard revealing a 25% plummet in the number of visitors to the High Street on Sunday, compared to the last Sunday before Christmas in 2019. It’s heartbreaking. Things had been looking so rosy for town centre stores this season, with a 10.8% rise in the value of sales as recently as last month.

“Monday’s deliveries look around 17% up on anticipated volumes. The reason for the late surge is not hard to see. Many shoppers have fled the High Street to safely order their final presents at home. A shortage of truck drivers after Brexit, plus long delays at UK ports, have already had an impact on home deliveries. That’s now being compounded by growing Omicron-related illness and absence at distribution centres. Even so, we expect online stores and couriers will meet the challenge, providing shoppers don’t leave things until the 23rd.

“With family get-togethers being discouraged by some health experts and mandatory curbs on household mixing now under consideration, many people have also made the decision to send their gifts to friends and family by courier, rather than deliver them in person. Many senders are booking pickups from home to avoid Post Office queues. This all adds to the flurry of last-minute deliveries being handled by the networks.

“The result of all these changes in the last few days before Christmas means substantially more home deliveries than was forecast even just two weeks ago. So far, none of the main UK couriers are reporting very significant delays to parcel deliveries, but many stores have sensibly cancelled next-day options and have brought forward their final order dates. That’s why our continually updated Christmas deadlines tool is so useful for keeping shoppers in the know with all their favourite retailers’ final order dates.”

Shoppers buying their online gifts today will still be able to do so for pre-Christmas delivery from a range of retailers, especially if they are willing to pay extra for next day delivery or to visit the store for click and collect pick-up.

Elite retailers

Can shoppers still buy from the Elite retailers in the RetailX UK Top500 for pre-Christmas delivery?InternetRetailing checked this morning whether orders could still be placed for delivery to addresses in Bristol and London in time for Christmas. Whether orders can be delivered will depend on both product availability and on delivery availability. We chose an item at random from the first page of products on each site. 

Amazon is still delivering orders placed by this evening for free standard delivery on Friday (Christmas Eve), while members of its Prime subscription scheme can get goods by tomorrow or Thursday to both Bristol and London.

At Asda, shoppers can order George clothing online for delivery on a named day until 23.59 tonight, for click and collect before 7pm today, or order for next-day delivery by 7pm tomorrow. There were no grocery delivery or collection slots remaining for Bristol or London until Monday December 27, however. 

Argos is promising delivery up to December 24, however the site was unable to confirm delivery or collection on either a London or Bristol postcode, with the store finder apparently not working to arrange collections. 

A Boots order could not be delivered to the selected Bristol postcode before January 4, but could be delivered to a London postcode tomorrow using next-day delivery at a cost of £4.95. Standard delivery would be made on December 30. Collection of the selected item could not be arranged before December 30 in either London or Bristol.  

Marks & Spencer offered next-day delivery to Bristol and London as soon as tomorrow, for £4.99, or collection on the same day for free. 

Standard Tesco grocery delivery and collection slots were not available, although a fast one hour delivery slot (via Whoosh in Bristol) would have been available from the Tesco site. 

In-store footfall slows ahead of Christmas: Springboard and Sensormatic Solutions

Fewer shoppers headed out to buy on the last weekend before Christmas than did so on the previous week, according to two sets of footfall data.

Weekend footfall was 8.5% lower in Central London than the weekend before, and 6.4% lower in other cities, according to Springboard. High street footfall across the UK (-2.6%) was down compared to the previous week. Across retail locations, footfall rose (+0.8%) on Saturday, and fell (-1.4%) on Sunday. 

During the full week, footfall was 5.5% higher than the week before, having grown by 15.6% last Tuesday before subsiding to 2.6% growth on Friday. Footfall was stronger across the week both in market towns (+3.4%) and, over the weekend, in shopping centres (+0.5%). 

Numbers for the full week were higher than the same time last year (+22.5%) and lower than in 2019 (-19.1%), said Springboard.

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, says:“Despite the introduction of Plan B guidance to work from home and the significant rise in Covid infections, footfall rose last week across UK retail destinations.  However, the growing nervousness of consumers meant that increases dwindled with each day that passed, and by Friday the uplift in footfall was around just a quarter of that on Wednesday.  

“This provided a forewarning for subdued performance of bricks and mortar stores and destinations over the weekend which, whilst regarded as the peak shopping weekend of the year, is exactly what occurred.  Indeed on Saturday footfall increased only very marginally from the week before, and on Sunday it was lower than the week before. 

“The nervousness of shoppers about making in-person shopping visits inevitably meant that large city centres lost out to smaller high streets, particularly over the weekend when footfall declined from the week before in Central London and large cities outside of the capital whilst rising in market towns.”

Super Saturday

According to Sensormatic Solutions, footfall on ‘super’ Saturday was 0.3% down on the previous Saturday, and up by 1% on the Saturday before that – and 22% higher than the same Saturday last year.

Any Sumpter, EMEA retail consultant for Sensormatic, says: “Consumer caution in the face of the Omicron wave and question marks about Christmas once again being cancelled means we’ve seen subdued shopper counts on the High Street on Super Saturday, normally the busiest in-store shopping day of the festive season. And whilst the data doesn’t show a mass exodus from the High Street, it does mean that festive footfall is facing a downward trajectory, just at the time when many retailers are relying on Christmas trade to make ends meet.  This will not only make uncomfortable reading, but will come as an even greater blow to retail businesses who have once again stepped up to make their store environments as safe as possible for shoppers.”  

Shoppers return partywear and other purchases in the face of Omicron

Fashion brands and retailers have seen a 48.4% increase in returns over the last three weeks, compared to the previous three weeks, as festive plus have changed in the light of the Omicron variant.

The data comes from returns platform ReBound, which has seen the volume of online returns rise by 64% this year, compared to 2020.

It says recent announcements about Omicron have coincided with consumers returning formal wear as work Christmas parties have been cancelled up and down the country.

In the first week of December, when the government first mooted the reintroduction of restrictions, the rate of returns of formal wear hit 51% and the volume of formal wear returns has continued to rise over the past three weeks.

With return rates for formal wear now 40% higher than this time last year, ReBound says it’s clear the tightening of restrictions is playing havoc with retailers’ returns.  

Return rates on formal wear are normally higher than everyday wear as tight fitting dresses or suits leave little room for error when it comes to sizing.

Graham Best, chief executive of ReBound, says: “Cancelled Christmas parties and concerns about the Omicron variant has driven fashion returns sky high as shoppers send back clothing they’ll no longer be wearing out. Traditionally we see a rise in fashion returns at this time of year thanks to post-Black Friday buyers’ remorse but this is far beyond usual levels, particularly for formal wear purchases. The pandemic is clearly far from over and there could still be further ramifications for retail on the horizon that could impact how shoppers buy or return. Retailers should be getting out in front and ensuring their returns processes are data-driven in order to prepare and manage any sudden influx of returned items.”
The figures from ReBound come soon after fashion retailer Boohoo Group warned of high levels of returns this year, especially for dresses. The fashion group, whose brands include, Karen Millen, Coast, Oasis and Warehouse, said this week that its net sales were 32% up in the year to November 30, compared to the same time last year, but that returns rates were 12.5 percentage points higher than last year, and seven percentage points higher than pre-pandemic levels, “driven by an exceptionally high dress mix”. 

Spending set to hit £1.39bn on ’panic Monday’

UK shoppers will spend £1.39bn online on ’panic Monday’, a new report suggests. Of that £0.97bn is expected to be spent in-store, despite rising concerns over Covid-19, while £0.42bn will be spent online as 17.7 million people buy through at least one sales channel.

The VoucherCodes Shopping for Christmas report  forecasts retail spending in the week leading up to Christmas, and finds that on Monday 10.8m people will hit the high street, despite the growing warnings over Covid-19 since the emergence of the Omicron variant. In-store shopping will account for £0.97bn of retail sales, whilst £0.42bn will be spent online on Monday as many rush to get orders in ahead of the last few days for guaranteed delivery in time for Christmas. 

In good news for retailers, spend is set to rise by 6.9% compared to 2020 (£1.3bn) and 7.8% compared to pre-pandemic spending (£1.29bn). 

“After recent changes to government advice due to the rise in Covid-19 cases and the Omicron variant, sadly the hospitality sector has yet again suffered a blow as many people cancel their social bookings for this final week before Christmas,” says Angus Drummond, senior director, commercial at “However, these forecasts will be encouraging for the retail industry.


“It appears most will still continue to shop as planned in these last few days before Christmas. The news that both shopper numbers and retail sales are expected to remain higher than 2020 will be reassuring for retailers, as this week is typically one of the most lucrative shopping periods.”

How shoppers shifted to the high street in November – a trend likely reversed this month

Shoppers hit the high street in November, spending 6.9% more in retail than a year ago – and 12.2% less online, the latest figures suggest. Spending was 1.4% higher than in the previous month of October, and but only 0.2% higher online. Online took its lowest share of spending since the first month of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the ONS Retail Sales report for November 2021. 

Some 26.9% of sales were online during the month – the lowest share of sales since March 2020 (22.6%) –  continuing a trend that has fallen steadily since it peaked in February 2021 (36.8%). 

Many commentators say that while November was a good month for the high street, it’s likely that sales will move further online in December as Christmas shoppers retreat in the light of the Omicron variant. Figures out today from the New West End Company – representing 600 brands, restaurants and businesses in the West End of London – suggest that yesterday’s footfall was 7% lower than a week earlier, and remains 32% lower than before the pandemic. There’s more detail in our full report on Friday’s ONS figures. 

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