Deep dive into digital rewrites rules for stores say reports

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So, the dust has settled on Black Friday and Cyber Monday and we can finally see what impact they had on shopping. In the UK, it was … well, very little. Really? After all that fuss, crashed websites and reports of surging sales?

Yes, according to a report from Visa and Markit that showed little overall movement in terms of sales although another report showed the impact was bigger – but pretty negative – in terms of visitor traffic to stores.

But there’s one thing everyone agrees on. The Christmas shopping season rule book has been torn up and nothing will be the same again.

First let’s look at the Visa report. Consumers may have spent 22% more on their visa cards (£2.2bn) on Black Friday and Cyber Monday but overall high street shopping was pretty flat at £1.1bn. So that’s one rule that’s changed – even if spending amounts don’t budge much, cash is definitely no longer king.

Meanwhile total consumer spending edged up only 1.1%, slower than October’s rise and actually the slowest increase in nearly two years. Sales at physical stores fell 1.5% and while internet spending rose, at 4.1%, the increase wasn’t that impressive. So rule number two that’s been broken – retailers are finding it less easy to manipulate consumers into a buying frenzy. They managed it last year but were less successful this time.

There’s some debate over whether clothing and footwear did well. Visa says they did. But a BDO survey said that fashion sales were down 4.9% last month. Has the rule about shoppers rushing to buy party clothes been broken? We’re not too sure yet.

The Visa figures did show people increasing their spending on dining out, going out for a drink and visiting the cinema or theatre rather than shopping, which at least means consumers are upbeat and ready to have fun (one pre-Christmas rule that’ll never be broken).

Slow sales

Hmmm. Aside from the bit about consumers having fun, the figures are something of a disappointment, although Visa/Markit don’t seem too concerned. They said the apparent weakness was actually due to a spending surge in November 2014 that meant this year’s figures looked slow in comparison.

So that makes our ability to assess where consumers are at as clear as mud then. Is there any more clarity on what’s happened since last weekend?

The other study I mentioned at the start of this report doesn’t give us any spending figures but it does show slow visitor traffic in-store. Footfall analysts at Springboard said today that UK retail destinations have continued to take a hit from online shoppers in the aftermath of the long shopping weekend. While the rule at this time of year is usually that shoppers are compelled to head to stores to kick off their festive shopping, this year – not so much.

Retail footfall across the UK from November 30 to December 6 was down 2.7% year-on-year, something Springboard attributed to shoppers snapping up online flash sales rather than heading in-store to make purchases.

High street visits fell 4.2% and shopping centre trips fell 3.4%. Although retail parks managed a 2% rise, it wasn’t as good as the 3.7% rise a year ago.

Springboard’s marketing and insights director Diane Wehrle said: “The volume of activity in retail stores in the week following the Black Friday weekend has dipped further on the back of strong activity within the e-commerce space.

“While the last payday before Christmas has traditionally driven a spike in sales for bricks-and-mortar retailers, there is strong evidence that the spending patterns of consumers are changing. For the first time this year, the Black Friday long weekend was an online shopping experience for consumers, and it appears that click and collect opportunities have not generated the uplifts in footfall that some retailers may have hoped for.”

That’s an interesting point, especially given the debate at the moment over how much click and collect might or might not be boosting physical store sales. Some retailers, such as New Look, say it definitely does, while analysts worry about other retailers like Debenhams.

But either way, it looks like we’ll have to wait a few more weeks (probably until this time next month) before we can make definitive statements about festive season shopping trends and whether we can write a new festive shopping rule book. I’m counting down the days until all those January trading updates start to come through…

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