Retail Traffic Index (RTI) figures for December released by Synovate Retail Performance reveal the number of non-food shopping trips made in the month was down by just 1.3 per cent on 2007 and up by a huge 33.3 per cent on November’s footfall.
Synovate retail psychologist Dr Tim Denison said: “We all felt that last month was going to be different to recent past Christmases, but according to our latest data, December 2008 was in fact extraordinary.
“In light of declining footfall levels in recent weeks and months, indicative of consumer wariness to go out spending, we had forecast that retail footfall would be 7.3 per cent lower than December 2007. For the first three weeks of the five-week month our prediction was right on track. Numbers over that period were down dramatically, by almost eight per cent, on the same period in 2007.”
“Shoppers, it seems, were certain that retailers would slash prices or begin full-blown sales in the run-up to Christmas if they stayed away. In reality, many retailers held their nerve through this time, or held well-publicised sales, which nevertheless only featured clearance stock and not ‘must have’ items. In fact, some of the latter even increased in price such was their desirability.”
The heavy promotional activity by retailers meant it was shoppers who broke the stand-off and began a last-minute surge on the Friday before Christmas, the 19th.
Monday December 22nd proved to be the busiest shopping day of the pre-Christmas period, even busier (by 1.6 per cent) than the 20th – the last Saturday before Christmas Day.
Denison continued: “From the 19th onwards, shoppers did not look back for the remainder of the month, spurred on by the subsequent and early launch of the winter Sales proper.
“With some retailers beginning their online sales on Christmas Eve or Day, and more stores opening on Boxing Day than ever before, there was scarcely time to do the turkey justice before people were thronging the shops again, scouring for those heavily discounted bargains. Saturday the 27th broke many retailer records and transpired, as it did in 2007, to be the busiest shopping day of the year, 3.5 per cent busier than the 22nd.”
The final two weeks of the month therefore transformed footfall figures completely. That fortnight saw shopper numbers soar to levels 9.6 per cent higher than the last two weeks of 2007, clawing back most of the deficit posted in the previous three weeks.
Denison explained: “The final full trading week before Christmas has established itself as the most critical week of the year since the start of the millennium, seeing footfall peak at levels 14 per cent higher on average than any other week of the year. But 2008 was different. Retail footfall in the pre-Christmas week topped numbers over the second busiest week (Christmas week itself) by only 0.6 per cent, a long way from 14 per cent. Indeed, it was only 1.4 per cnet busier than the week after that, the final week of the year (week ending January 3rd).”