Weak consumer confidence combined with an early Black Friday and Cyber Monday caused UK footfall to fall in December, new data reveals.
Research from Springboard and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) shows that total UK footfall declined by 2.5% year on year in December, compared with the same period in 2018.
Footfall has declined in December in all but one year since 2009, but the 2019 drop was at the upper end of the scale of decline.
High street footfall declined by 3.5% during the month, while the number of visitors to retail parks fell 0.5% and to shopping centres by 2.1%.
“The 2.5% drop in footfall across UK retail destinations during December was not a surprise as footfall has declined in December in all but one year since 2009,” said Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing and insights director.
”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.
“All of this was despite the occurrence of Black Friday during the December trading month which, in conjunction with Cyber Monday, helped to increase footfall in the first two weeks by 0.1%. Essentially this discounting bonanza pulled Christmas trading forward, demonstrated by a drop in footfall of -6.1% over the third and fourth weeks of December which was nearly three times as large as the 2.2% drop in the same weeks in 2018.
“The reasons why this occurred are varied, but 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-focused 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.”
She added: “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.”