Busy December boosted by sales and exchanges, latest Retail Traffic Index (RTI) shows

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Post-Christmas sales, exchanges and returns drove bumper footfall figures for the UK non-food retail market in December, with shopping trips up 2.7% on 2013.

The global retail and footfall consultant, Ipsos Retail Performance, 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.

In December the RTI increased 31.7% on the previous month and 2.7% year-on-year. The busiest high street shopping day of 2014 was Saturday 20 December, replacing the traditional post-Christmas sale day, 27 December, from the top spot.

December started slowly, with a forecast lull in footfall following the Black Friday crowds stealing the narrative for the first two weeks of the month. Shopper numbers accelerated from here and the final week of the month was responsible for December’s positive figures, with retail traffic 14.6% higher than the same time last year.

The month projected clear discrepancies in the regional breakdown of retail traffic, with northern parts of the country enjoying the strongest year-on-year improvements. Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North of England as regions all boasted shopper numbers that returned to annual growth, the first time this has happened since 2005.

“The build-up to Christmas was very much in line with what was expected, however it was the final week of the year when we saw a dramatic increase on 2013,” said Tim Denison, director at Ipsos Retail Performance.

“A number of conflicting factors, both positive and negative for retailers, played a part in driving footfall during the post-Christmas week. The attraction of the sales of course played their part, but retailers opened their doors earlier and closed later, particularly on New Year’s Day, helping to bolster the footfall figures.

“However, a substantial amount of the traffic should be attributed to people exchanging or returning gifts. Many shoppers decided to purchase clothing and shoes as presents due to promotions in high street fashion retailers. The challenge of getting size right meant that returns levels were higher than normal.”

Footfall levels for the year as a whole continued to fall, as has been the status quo year-on-year since 2007. However, in 2014 the rate of decline slowed dramatically to -0.7%.

Denison said: “This improvement in the rate of decline helps to underline that 2014 was a better year for the retail sector. Looking forward into 2015, it’s likely that we are heading back into tougher waters. The General Election in May will inject uncertainty into the economic mix, potentially damaging consumer confidence, which has been steadily improving over the previous 12 months.

“That said tumbling petrol prices, a return to real earnings growth and record employment isn’t a bad portfolio of economic drivers with which to start a new year.”

Footfall change: December 2014 vs December 2013 

Scotland & Northern Ireland +6.6%
North of England +11.5%
The Midlands -3.2%
South West England & Wales +0.3%
South East England & London +0.7%

Footfall change: Q4 2014 vs Q4 2013
Scotland & Northern Ireland +3.8%
North of England +8.0%
The Midlands -1.9%
South West England & Wales +1.3%
South East England & London -1.6%

UK  +1.4%

Footfall change: 2014 vs 2013

Scotland & Northern Ireland +0.5%
North of England +1.3%
The Midlands -0.5%
South West England & Wales -2.1%
South East England & London -2.0%

UK  -0.7%