The latest Retail Traffic Index (RTI) figures from Synovate Retail Performance reveal an unexpected hiccup in retail footfall just when evidence was building that the UK consumer economy was beginning to recover.
The number of visits measured to over 5,000 non-food UK shops in November fell by 0.8 per against the same month in 2008 and showed just one per cent rise on October’s figure.
Synovate’s Dr Tim Denison explains the latest statistics: “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 four per cent increase in like-for-like sales this December.”
Over the first fortnight of the month, the RTI was slightly higher than over the corresponding weeks last year, but November was such a quiet month on the High Street in 2008, that there is little comfort to be had from that uplift.
Over the second half of the month, the comparisons are worse still. Footfall levels were down by 1.7 per cent against the same fortnight of November 2008. Where we’d normally see shopper numbers up by over 11 per cent on the first two weeks of the month, this year the rise has been nine per cent.
Denison continued: “This time around, retailers are far more comfortable with their seasonal stock levels and this is being reflected in their breadth and depth of promotional activity, or lack of it. In the last week of November, for example, PwC reported that the percentage of retailers offering promotions in the high street was down from 62 per cent of the total last year to 43 per cent this, and that the typical level of discounting stood at 25 per cent rather than last year’s 40 per cent norm."
Synovate Retail Performance stands by its belief that December will be a solid month for shopper numbers. Its forecast predicts that retail traffic through the doors of non-food retailers will be 1.8 per cent above levels last year. The BRC/KPMG Retail Sales Monitor tracks the Synovate RTI trend very closely, such that Synovate expects the anticipated uplift in traffic to yield a four per cent like-for-like increase in sales when figures are released.