Shopper numbers slump on New Year's Eve as consumers shun the high street

Helen Cahill
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Shoppers Hit The Stores During Christmas Sales
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Shopper numbers slumped over New Year's Eve, as high streets and shopping centres battled against the rising popularity of online retail.

Footfall slumped by 10.5 per cent on New Year's Eve, according to data from retail experts Springboard. In shopping centres, footfall was down by as much as 13 per cent.

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The drop in customer numbers comes after a sluggish performance over the period after Christmas, when retailers tried to entice shoppers with significant sales. On Boxing Day, footfall was down by 4.5 per cent, and in the period from 27 December and 30 December, shopper numbers fell 2.3 per cent.

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said shoppers may well have been put off by Storm Dylan earlier in the day, but pointed out that even between 7pm and midnight footfall dropped by 7.2 per cent on UK high streets.

“Overall the Christmas & New Year trading period this year has been challenging for bricks and mortar stores, with noticeably lower footfall than last year," she said.

"In part this is a reflection of caution amongst consumers, but is also a function of underlying structural shifts in consumers’ shopping habits due to online activity, and the fact that spending is spread across a wider range of products than ever before which is increasingly encompassing leisure experiences rather than purely physical goods.”

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Jefferies analysts have forecast a tough year ahead for retailers, saying that high inflation and low consumer confidence suggest shoppers will be cautious with spending.

"With real GDP growth expected to slow, ongoing Brexit negotiations and rising interest rates we think consumers will spend prudently in 2018," they said.

"In light of this, in the UK we have a preference for discounters like B&M who are well positioned for any weakness in the consumer environment...We would avoid cyclically leveraged retailers like Dunelm or operationally-challenged retailers like Sports Direct."

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Independent retail analyst Richard Hyman said that retailers will need to focus on more than just cost savings to be successful in 2018.

"No one is going to be a winner in this market because they are good at managing costs. That has to be a given," he said. "Being great at selling is the non-negotiable skill in this market. And being good at selling has to begin and end with the customer...Investing in truly understanding your core customer is critical."

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