The figures from Synovate Retail Performance were far below the 1.8 per cent increase the firm had predicted for the month.
Likewise the month-on-month rise of 27 per cent against November was well below the 32.4 per cent forecast. No regions showed a year-on-year rise in store traffic, something that has not happened before in the whole decade.
Synovate analyst Tim Denison explained: “On the face of it the footfall numbers are very disappointing especially given that December 2008 wasn’t a strong month either; thus flattering any comparisons.
"However, there were good reasons for this fall in shopper numbers and this year was different on several counts. Firstly, as we know, people have got accustomed to doing their gift shopping closer and closer towards Christmas, in the knowledge that, in past years, retailers have reduced prices and even started their winter sales before the big day. This trend was even more noticeable this year despite us warning that there would be no giveaway sales.
“Secondly, the onset of wintry weather in the middle of the month, which lasted right up to Christmas in parts of the country, made last-minute shopping difficult, leaving some gift buying incomplete and some shoppers caught out.
"Thirdly, and most importantly perhaps, because retailers had not bought the same high levels of stock that they had in past years, the breadth and depth of discounting was far lower this year."
This year, for the first time since Synovate records began over a decade ago, the week following Christmas (w/c December 27th) proved to be the busiest week of the month and, indeed, of the whole year.
Store traffic levels for the last week were 4.1 per cent stronger than the last full trading week before Christmas (w/c December 13th), traditionally the number one traffic week of the year, something that hasn’t happened before.
Denison continues; “Given that retailers had not succumbed to starting their sales before Christmas, we knew that the last week of the year would be busy.
"However, with many retailers electing to launch their winter sales on the 26th, to benefit from full trading hours rather than Sunday’s constrained times, we weren’t sure how this would impact on the final week. It seems very little. Monday 28th December transpired to be the most crowded shopping day of the year, 1.2 per cent busier even than December 19th, the last Saturday before Christmas."