High streets reported the greatest fall in shopper numbers last month

High streets reported the greatest fall in shopper numbers last month

UK retail footfall fell for a fifth consecutive month in December, as shoppers opted to buy online throughout the Christmas period instead of visiting high street stores.

According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC)/Springboard Footfall Monitor, December shopper numbers were 2.4% lower than a year ago, although this was an improvement on the 2.9% fall in November and marginally above the three-month average of a 2.7% decline.

High streets reported the greatest fall, down 3.7% year-on-year, and fell 3.8% on a three-month basis - the worst drop since August 2012. 

Footfall in out-of-town locations and shopping centres fell 0.6% and 1.5% respectively when compared to the prior year period. On a three-month basis, out-of-town locations posted a 1.2% drop and shopping centres saw a 1.8% decline.

BRC director general Helen Dickinson said: "These figures highlight how the rapid evolution of multichannel is changing the face of shopping, particularly at Christmas.

"Rather than making multiple trips to the shops over the festive period, many of us planned ahead for our gift-buying and took advantage of retailers' investment in services like click and collect so that they could cover off their festive spending at their convenience."

The timing of Christmas, Dickinson added, was also a "major factor behind peaks and troughs in shopper numbers" last month, with Christmas Day falling on a Wednesday meaning many people held off on finalising their festive spending until the last few days. 

"We saw in last week's sales figures that the final result was respectable overall, with multichannel the 'story of the season'. These figures similarly highlight that continuing caution and changing spending habits were central themes of Christmas trading in 2013."

Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, added: "The drop in footfall was double that of December 2012 but, unlike last year, high streets bore the brunt with an annual decline of more than double that in shopping centres.

"The combination of the emphasis by retailers to drive online sales and the discounting introduced by retailers early on in the month meant that shoppers delayed visits to retail destinations until as late as possible, which adversely affected footfall early on in the month.

"And then, over the last weekend before Christmas, severe weather suppressed what retailers hoped would be the last burst of peak trading activity so that footfall did not have an opportunity to recover before the holiday period."