Christmas cheer: UK December footfall strong despite rail strikes - Springboard
Fears of a dismal December for retailers failed to materialise with positive news from Springboard on Thursday lifting spirits after a tough 2022.
Despite the cost-of-living crisis and the disruption to footfall by the rail strikes in the penultimate Christmas trading week, footfall still rose by 5.8% month-on-month in December, was up 9.9% on a year ago, and also narrowed the gap from the 2019 footfall level to -10.9% from -11.4% in November.
While high street footfall rose by just 1.6% in December from the month before against a forecast of +4.5%, footfall in shopping centres rose by 13.1% and by 7.2% in retail parks versus forecast increases of +10% and +5% respectively.
This came as all UK destinations were impacted by the four-day pre-Christmas rail strikes. The gap from the 2019 footfall level more than doubled to -20.1% from -9.6% in the week before Christmas and was -11% in the first week of the month.
The report said the attraction of physical retail for consumers “will have been heightened by concerns around deliveries due to the postal strike, which will have become more significant as the month progressed”.
However, the longer-term impact of the strikes on December’s footfall appeared to be negligible, Springboard noted, with the 5.8% increase from November in line with the data company’s forecast of +6% published at the beginning of Q4, prior to the rail strikes being announced.
“What is also evident is that while many employees worked from home in December due to the strikes, consumers were not deterred from visiting bricks and mortar stores and shifted some of their trips away from high streets to shopping centres and retail parks, which can be more easily reached by car,” said Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s Marketing & Insights Director.
Wehrle added: “Despite the positive outcome for retail destinations in December, it is indisputable that the strain on household budgets due to the cost-of-living crisis is likely to begin to tell in January, and that the first quarter of 2023 will be challenging for retail.”
Retail should expect footfall in January to be around 20% lower than in December, but this echoes the size of decline that has occurred in January in every year since Springboard started publishing its footfall data in 2009, she noted.
“The expected drop off in footfall in what is the worst point of the year for retail is likely to be exacerbated by further rail strikes planned for virtually all of the first week in January. This is particularly the case for high streets as employees will work from home and many shopping trips will once again be diverted to retail parks and shopping centres.”
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