Shoppers hit the high street - many to return unwanted presents

Footfall had a couple of post-Christmas peaks, but it wasn't enough to replicate last year's boost.

by Rebecca Smith
Last Updated: 04 Jan 2016

Retailers had their fingers crossed for a Christmas boost after what had been a fairly underwhelming post-Black Friday period, but haven’t seen quite the surge they’d been hoping for.

New figures from Springboard show there was a rise in footfall on a couple of days in the week after Christmas for UK high streets, but it's thought that many customers were returning or exchanging unwanted gifts. There was a 5.1% year-on-year increase in footfall on December 29 or ‘Take Back Tuesday’ – the latest day to be given a meaningless title to squeeze into the already crammed retail dictionary.

There wasn’t a similarly catchy name bestowed on Saturday January 2, but that was the second peak, with footfall up 9.7% year-on-year as shoppers ventured out to tackle the New Year sales (or possibly just to stretch their legs after a gluttonous and sedentary Christmas period).

Property firm Hammerson, which owns 22 shopping centres in the UK including north London’s Brent Cross and the Bullring in Birmingham, said that sales in the eight weeks leading up to Boxing Day increased 2%. This suggested that the plethora of discounts did have some effect, though on a like-for-like basis (excluding stores that opened during the year), sales were down 0.8%.

Springboard recorded a 3% year-on-year drop in footfall from the bank holiday Monday to New Year’s Day, including a 2.6% dip on New Year’s Day. The figures look all-the-more more disappointing compared to the same time last year, when the Monday to Friday period after Christmas had an increase of 6.2% year-on-year and 14.2% for New Year’s Day.

While Springboard said the wet weather meant shoppers turned towards indoor shopping centres, it also acknowledged that the decline in footfall was in line with the overall trend witnessed throughout 2015. It also pointed to the increasing strength of out of town retail parks, which it said were drawing customers away from the high street.

Diane Wehrle, insights and marketing director at Springboard, said, ‘Throughout 2015, high streets continued to be challenged by the convenience, choice and customer service shoppers can find in out of town retail parks and shopping centres.’

She added that while it was ‘always going to be a challenge’ for high streets to build on the strong footfall experienced this time last year, ‘there is a real opportunity for high streets to improve their offer without overhauling their infrastructure’.

Trading updates due from some of the established names this week, including the likes of John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Next, should provide a clearer picture of the retail landscape for 2016. It might also indicate whether the UK high streets should be opting for other approaches outside of numerous discount days to win back more shoppers.


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