The high street has been dealt another blow with shoppers staying away on what is usually expected to be the peak trading weekend before Christmas, figures show.
Saturday footfall across UK high streets plummeted more than 9% compared with the same time last year, with bad weather and a continuing trend to shop online blamed for the disappointing numbers.
Overall footfall for shopping centres and retail parks, combined with high streets, was down 7.3% up to 3pm on Saturday, retail intelligence experts Springboard said.
Diane Wehrle, its marketing and insights director, said Storm Deirdre’s arrival would do nothing to help people who are already choosing not to hit their local high street.
She said: “If people are presented with really terrible weather they then have the choice to shop online, and they can make other choices about what to do with their time.
“That unfortunately offers them sometimes better alternatives than trailing around a town centre or a high street in freezing cold or rainy weather.”
Ms Wehrle said while footfall appeared to have picked up for the early part of the week – with a year-on-year increase of 6.1% in high streets, shopping centres and retail parks – it was a false positive as snow last year meant figures were already low.
She said Saturday’s figures were “severely down” on last year, on what she described as a “peak trading weekend”.
Many shoppers may not venture out next weekend as it is so close to Christmas Day, she added, saying they could have already travelled to wherever they are spending the holidays, and may feel discouraged by unfavourable weather forecasts.
Predicting a difficult week ahead, she added that retailers will have been hoping for a last festive lift after what has been a difficult year.
Figures in September showed the UK to be suffering its worst year on record as in-store sales declined for the eighth month in a row.
The bargain bonanza of Black Friday last month also disappointed, with data showing the biggest drop in footfall for that week in three years.
She said: “It’s unfortunate that the weather has come in. I think all retailers are finding it really tough, even the ones that are most resilient are finding it tough. And this is not what they need. This is really poor.”
She added that the trend now to discount items before Christmas and having sometimes all-year-round sales affects buyers’ attitudes towards price drops.
“We have come to expect discounts,” she said. By the time we get to Christmas we’ve seen 20% off, we’ve seen 30% off, we’ve had Black Friday.”
Rachel Lund, head of insights and analytics at the British Retail Consortium, presented a more positive picture, suggesting shoppers may still turn out for the final few days before December 25.
She said: “While we have seen a slow start to the Christmas period, changing technology and shopping habits means that many consumers will be leaving their shopping to the last week before Christmas – historically the most important for retailers.
“Nonetheless, given the challenging year on the high street, retailers will be hoping for strong sales this weekend and next as consumers buy both food and presents before Christmas Day.”