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Fresh concerns about the state of the UK high street

High Street

A WOBBLE IN OCTOBER’S FOOTFALL SPARKS FRESH CONCERNS ABOUT THE STATE OF THE HIGH STREET

Shops on the UK high street must give people a reason to celebrate this Christmas, not try to win them over with ‘bargain basement promotions’, a leading retail analyst has warned.

Dr Tim Denison, director of retail intelligence at Ipsos Retail Performance, says the upcoming Christmas trading period is the ‘most important of the last decade’ – and retailers will have to work even harder to attract customers.

His comments come after Ipsos Retail Performance recorded a -7.4% drop in UK store visits for October – the biggest year-on-year drop since July – while average weekly footfall was down -2.9% on September. Worst hit was South West England and Wales, followed by the Midlands, which saw decreases of -11.3% and -7.9% respectively.

“After a stronger couple of months, footfall wobbled again in October,” he said.

“Given that it was a soft comparison against last year, when storms Ophelia and Brian swept across the country, the figures are disappointing. Non-essential retail is clearly being hit by modest real income growth and the recent inflation in motoring, housing and leisure costs.

“As we enter the most important peak season in a decade, retailers will need to step up their game to get shoppers into their stores. The winners will be those that remind us that the festive season is a time to celebrate, justifying a case to spend, rather than to tempt them with bargain basement promotions. It has been a particularly challenging environment in retailing for a couple of years now, and 2019 looks little different.”

Ipsos Retail Performance, the global retail and footfall consultant, compiles the Retail Traffic Index (RTI), which is derived from the number of individual shoppers entering over 4,000 non-food retail stores across the UK.

Apart from Scotland and Northern Ireland, where footfall increased by +1.7% between September and October, stores in every region of the country saw a month-on-month drop of between -1.1% and -1.9%. However, retailers in London saw the sharpest decline of -7.4%.

Even the much-anticipated Black Friday sale is not expected to reverse retailers’ fortunes, despite the UK being one of the few countries to see a year-on-year gain in footfall (+0.95%) in 2017. Waning consumer confidence, a progressive switch to online deals and the event reaching maturity are all expected to contribute to a -3.4% year-on-year decline, according to Ipsos Retail Performance’s forecasts.

“October was once the most placid month of the year in footfall terms, with very little movement year-in, year-out,” Dr Denison explained.

“The emergence of Black Friday has disrupted that, putting a spoke not only in December’s footfall, but in October’s too.”

He added that before Asda made Black Friday a mainstream promotional event in the British retail calendar footfall in 2013 October and November were on a par – but since then, November has been 5% busier.

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