High street like-for-like sales edged up 1.9 per cent in December as retailers sought to protect margins while consumers hunted for bargains, according to the latest figures revealed today.
Midweek average footfall declined 16 per cent on the same period last year until December 16th 2012 though a late surge in the final weekend before Christmas saw a boost of 22 per cent on the same week in 2011.
Don Williams, National Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP, explained: “Last year we saw several stores having to slash prices to levels that really hit their profits after getting caught with too much stock.
“This year there has been a clear focus on protecting margins. By building up to Christmas early in a planned and measured way there has been less knee-jerk discounting.
“At the same time consumers are continuing to feel the pinch of hard economic conditions and are being much more careful about when and where they spend their money.”
Poor weather at the start of last month has also been blamed for the disappointing results, which saw sales drop 3.7 per cent year-on-year in the week to December 16th though strong sales in certain categories buoyed the overall figure.
Non-fashion outperformed its competitors, up 7.1 per cent over the period and maintaining positive territory each week of the month, though discounting and gift purchasing in the final two weeks of December aided the strongest growth.
Meanwhile, fashion sales saw flat overall growth as a result of “high levels of polarisation this Christmas”, according to BDO, which noted that retailers with a strong brand image which had prepared well ahead of the festive period fared better than their counterparts.
However, non-store sales grew 30.9 per cent year-on-year as improvements to Wi-Fi and 4G coverage encouraged consumers to spend online , and Boxing Day saw a record level of internet sales, up a significant 17 per cent on last year.
Such a surge ought to encourage more retailers to invest further in omnichannel operations, believes Williams.
“Mobile shopping channels are becoming more sophisticated and clothes shoppers are now more comfortable with trading an in store experience for a fast, convenient and hassle-free online shopping experience,” he commented.
“When backed by a strong brand and outstanding customer service this is becoming an increasingly important addition to retailers revenue figures and we expect this trend to continue, especially with the arrival of 4G.”