New UK retail footfall figures show that shoppers were out in force one week ahead of Christmas Day, buoyed by the now expected rather than anticipated pre-Christmas sales and search for bargains. However, the Retail Traffic Index (RTI) figures which are compiled by Ipsos Retail Performance highlight that footfall is down on the same period last year, suggesting that shoppers are simply holding onto their money or instead waiting for even bigger discounts from retailers after Christmas.
After a slower November than last year, the good news for UK non-food retailers is that shopper numbers began to increase markedly the week commencing 25/11, two weeks later than the same period in 2011. Footfall traffic surged in the first week of December, overtaking 2011 levels. Unfortunately for retailers this surge was short-lived, and although footfall traffic continued to improve in the second week of December, it was down slightly (-1.8%) year on year against 2011.
London and the South East of England continues its weaker run this year, down -7.1% on last year in December so far. This is noteworthy after this was the best performing region in 2011, particularly in December where it was up 13.0% on December 2010 against a countrywide average of 2.9% in December.
Commenting on this week's run-up-to-Christmas RTI figures, Peter Luff, President of Ipsos Retail Performance, said: "Following two weeks in December which were slightly stronger than predicted, retail traffic in the third week was slightly lower than our expectations putting the month to date almost exactly where we thought it would be. Interestingly, London and the South East is the only region that has been below the predicted level for all of December.
"Whether or not shoppers will continue to be out in force in the final weekend before Christmas in this region - or indeed any other region of the UK - remains to be seen. It's an interesting scenario and somewhat of a standoff between shoppers and retailers. It could be that consumers are simply holding out for even greater discounts and bargains, or they may be holding onto their money with a view to spending immediately after Christmas or in New Year.
"For logistical reasons, the nearer we get to Christmas, the less likely it is that consumers will be buying goods online if presents they are buying are needed ahead of the big day. This is especially true of the husband who has left his shopping until the last minute and will be out buying the one gift for his wife who has worked tirelessly to make Christmas special!
"So we may see more people out on the UK's high streets as they look to make those last minute purchases for a family member or friend. The question is - and one which they will be pondering - is whether there will be goods available as retailers have tended to keep their stock levels lower this year to avoid having excess in their warehouses.
"It's fascinating stuff and will be interesting to see how the forthcoming week, and in particular this coming weekend, pan out."
To find out exactly how this year's footfall in non-food stores does pan out, the next and final pre-Christmas weekly footfall update from Ipsos Retail Performance will be released on Christmas Eve (24th December).