Last-minute shopping brings Christmas cheer for UK retailers

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Store closures

Shoppers who left it until the last minute to buy presents and outfits for the festive season may have contributed to stronger-than-expected footfall in December, according to the new figures.

Data from Ipsos Retail Performance indicates that December 22, which was known as “Super Saturday”, proved to be the busiest shopping day in 2018.

UK retail saw a fifth more shoppers compared to the previous Saturday and the day brought to a close what was also the busiest week of the year, where footfall was 18.5 per cent higher than the week before.

On Christmas Eve, footfall jumped by 27.4 per cent compared to the same day last year, when it fell on a Sunday.

It was also up 4.7 per cent on the previous Monday (December 17).

Ipsos said December’s overall footfall finished just 1.5 per cent lower than last year – making it the narrowest year-on-year deficit of the past 12 months and the strongest comparative month since June 2017.

The retail consultancy firm admitted that Boxing Day footfall was disappointing, as it was six per cent quieter than last year.

Despite footfall during the week of Christmas Day being down by 5.6 per cent year-on-year, Ipsos said stores still performed better than predicted.

Retailers in the North, Scotland and Northern Ireland saw the most impressive results, recording a year-on-year gain in December.

It was the first time any of the UK regions have seen this kind of growth since November 2017.

“It seems that, despite the political and economic uncertainty surrounding Brexit, people still wanted to make the most of Christmas and all the in-store bargains it brought,” Ipsos Retai Performance intelligence director Dr Tim Denison said.

“As expected, the early weeks were slow – but when the rush came, it was stronger than we had predicted. The question now is how much margin individual retailers had to sacrifice to pull in the shoppers.

“Projections from Deloitte earlier in the month suggest that the discounts would be deeper and wider than ever before, but whether that is founded remains to be seen.”

December’s footfall rounded off the strongest quarter of the year, with the figures declining 3.9 per cent compared to the same quarter in 2017.

It also marked a significant recovery from the third quarter, when footfall dropped 6.4 per cent.

However, footfall for 2018 was seven per cent weaker than the year before, representing the biggest year-on-year drop since Ipsos’ records began 20 years ago.

“There’s no doubt December was the high point of the year, at least in terms of footfall, and delivered a surprise Christmas present to many retailers,” Denison said.

“The rest of the year has been one to forget as footfall dropped to its lowest levels this century, making it the toughest year for non-food retailers that I can remember. 2017 was difficult enough but 2018 has proved to be even more brutal.

“More well-known names have disappeared from the high street, and others will inevitably follow in January.

“Announcements of CVAs, store closures and swathes of job losses dominated the headlines, and retailers, who have built their reputations over decades, have been brought down in mere months.

“It is important to remember, however, that there are also many who have worked through business transformation programmes, putting them in a stronger position to succeed.”

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