Stores worried by decline in footfall

Julian Harris
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THE LEVEL of Christmas sales this year remains “on a knife edge” as retailers nervously wait to see if consumers will splash their cash in the final run up to the big day.

Earlier this month people flooded to shops to spend their November pay packages, yet the subsequent week saw a demoralising drop in the number of shoppers hitting the stores.

Compared to the same time last year, footfall was up 15.1 per cent in all shopping locations in the week beginning 28 November. Yet in the week commencing 5 December footfall fell by 2.3 per cent annualised, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) revealed today.

Strikes by state sector workers bolstered shopping in the earlier week, the BRC said. “The day of industrial action was also used by many, off-work for the day, as an opportunity to hit the shops,” said BRC chief Stephen Robertson.

“In fact, the number of people visiting shopping centres was up by 40 per cent on the day of the strikes compared with the same day last year.”

While week-on-week footfall jumped 5.6 per cent in the week of the general strike, it fell by 1.8 per cent the following week, scaring retailers.

“Footfall should be on a rising trend as Christmas gets closer,” Robertson added. “This drop shows festive sales are still on a knife edge.”

With Christmas Day falling on a Sunday this year, many disorganised and hard-pressed consumers may be leaving their shopping until the final Saturday, the BRC said.

“With only one full week of trading to go before the holidays the final result is very much hanging in the balance,” Robertson said.

Shopping centres appear to be faring better than either high streets or out of town shops. Footfall rose in shopping centres even in the week beginning 5 December, when it fell in out-of-town centres and on the high street, the BRC data showed.