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Footfall experiences a 'hiccup' but Christmas won't be a wipe-out

Published: 2 December 2009
Wet weather and fewer pre-Christmas sales see retail footfall drop 0.8% in November but analysts expect a surge of shoppers this month.
Footfall experiences a 'hiccup' but Christmas won't be a wipe-out
The latest Retail Traffic Index figures from Synovate revealed an 'unexpected hiccup', with the number of visits to more than 5,000 non-food UK stores, dropping 0.8% in November, compared with the same month in 2008.

The figure had also risen just 1% on October's results. The second half of the month was particularly bad, with footfall levels down 1.7% against the same fortnight of November 2008. However, much of this can be attributed to the appalling weather conditions experienced in recent weeks, keeping shoppers indoors.

Synovate's Dr Tim Denison explained: "We really had expected a stronger show of shopper numbers in November, following two months of year-on-year growth. Whilst there are good reasons for the disappointing numbers, they do not imply however, that Christmas will be a wipe-out for retailers this year. Indeed, Synovate predicts a 4% increase in like-for-like sales this December."

Synovate believes that, while last year, retailers were very conscious of the high stock levels they were carrying in the face of diminishing demand, this year they are far more comfortable with seasonal stock levels, resulting in less promotional activity.

High street chain Marks and Spencer grabbed headlines last year by running a 20% discount day as early as November 20, promoting a number of other retailers to follow suit in a bid to stimulate sales.

However, it was revealed that, in the last week of November, the percentage of retailers offering promotions on the high street was down from 62% last year, to 43% in 2009. The typical level of discounting also stood at 25%, compared with last year's 40% norm.

Dr Denison added: "The incessant wet weather has, of course, also dampened shoppers' enthusiasm to hit the high streets in search of early Christmas presents. This time of year, leaden skies and dark days challenge the resolve of even the hardiest and most forward-planning of shoppers."

Instead many seem to have stayed at home and explored the offers available online. Something that Dr Denison believes retailers have picked up on, with many actively promoting early online sales, "content to encourage the surge to their stores a little later this year."

Looking to December, Dr Denison added: "Whilst November remains the key month for online Christmas purchases, we anticipate that shoppers will return to the high street in force in December, some disenchanted with delivery problems of shopping online." Synovate predicts that retail traffic through the doors of non-food retailers will be 1.8% above levels last year.

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