Sunday 20 November 2011 11:02 pm

High street is hit by plunge in customers

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THE UK’s high streets have suffered the sharpest drop in footfall since last December’s freezing weather, new research reveals, painting a gloomy retail picture ahead of the crucial Christmas trading period.

Footfall in stores and shopping centres across the country fell by 2.3 per cent between August and October compared with the same period last year, figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and retail analysts Springboard revealed today.

The number of visitors on the high street and in shopping centres fell by 2.5 per cent, while at out-of-town shopping areas, footfall was down by 2.0 per cent.

The West Midlands, Scotland and Northern Ireland fared the worst while the South East held up the best.

Over the last 12 months high streets have on average seen the biggest drop in retail traffic, which is down 2.7 per cent.

The BRC said soaring utility bills and low wage growth continued to force shoppers to cut back.

“This toxic mix has left people with less money to spend this Christmas than last and that’s stopping people shopping,” Stephen Robertson, BRC director general, said.

Unseasonably mild weather has also been putting consumers off stocking up on winter clothes, forcing retailers to cut prices and offer early promotions to boost trading.

“Retailers will be hoping the quiet quarter reflected in these figures is the result of households postponing their seasonal spending rather than cancelling it altogether,” Robertson said.

Meanwhile, John Lewis sales across its department stores in the week ending 19 November were £85.2m, up 11.6 per cent on the previous week.

But its sales last week were down 3.2 per cent last week from a year earlier, which the retailer blamed on the mild Autumn weather deterring shoppers.