Shoppers shunned high street in run-up to Christmas, report finds

Retailers can no longer rely on Christmas trading to make up for revenue lost earlier in the year, a report suggests, as shopper numbers on the high street continued to dwindle in December despite big discounts being offered.

Those behind the BRC (British Retail Consortium)-Springboard footfall and vacancies monitor said retailers should not ignore the warning signs of sales bonanzas failing to stimulate customer activity.

Discounting “is severely eroding the strength of Christmas as a major trading period”, the report said.

The latest report found that footfall fell by 2.6% year-on-year in December – marking the 13th month in a row of declines.

Shopper numbers on the high street, in retail parks and in shopping centres were in decline in December.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, said: “The 2.6% decline in footfall in December 2018 – the ninth in 10 years, and the seventh consecutive year of decline – is undeniably strong evidence that retailers can no longer rely on Christmas trading to redeem revenue lost earlier in the year.”

She continued: “If nothing else is learnt from December 2018, it is that discounting does not stimulate customer activity, and is severely eroding the strength of Christmas as a major trading period.

“Ignoring the warning signs and continuing to bring sales forward undermines profitability and, ultimately, longer-term innovation in retailing.”

Footfall on the high street declined by 2.1% year-on-year, marking five consecutive months of weakening for this shopping location.

Retail parks had a similar fate, with December footfall 2.1% lower than a year earlier.

Footfall in shopping centres declined by 3.9% – with this location having now seen 21 consecutive months of declines.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “The December results conclude a difficult year for retailers, with footfall dropping by 2.6% over the year.

“This continued drop, now on to its 13th month, continues to put pressure on bricks-and-mortar stores up and down the country.

“It comes at a time when retail is in the midst of a transformation, investing in technology and the online offer, as well as offering more experiences in physical shops.

“This is evolving many high streets into a destination for wider services, as well as shopping.”