They called it Panic Saturday, the day UK shoppers would wake up and think “OMG, it’s Christmas on Friday, I must go shopping.” So did it happen? Not really. Stores geared up for retail madness but shoppers woke up and said “yeah, whatever…”
There was panic, but it was on the part of (some) retailers, not shoppers. Average discounts nearly reached 45% and shops were, if not empty (this is Christmas, after all), not as busy as hoped. It wasn’t quite a case of tumbleweed blowing down high streets but the picture wasn’t a pretty one. Here’s why.
Reason 1: The calendar shift
What went wrong? The fact is that Christmas is on a Friday this year and that hasn’t happened since 2009. Shoppers didn’t feel the need to panic at the weekend as they knew they had plenty of shopping says left. Visitor traffic analysts at FootFall think its’s the week ahead that will count and will be similar to 2009 with consumers who’ve taken all or part of the week off going on a later-than-usual shopping spree.
The Centre for Retail Research expects us to spend £6bn this week, 25% more than the equivalent days last year. Tomorrow should be the busiest day in-store with footfall 2.2% heavier than last year and 54% heavier than an average weekday.
Reason 2: The online migration
Of course, online is increasingly significant. Take my family as an example. Personally, I started – and finished – my Christmas shopping on my iPad while sat on my mum’s sofa on Saturday. It was all done courtesy of Amazon’s next-day delivery, Boots’ click & collect service and Very Exclusive’s half-price sale. My sister, who’s a very different shopper from me, had already completed hers on her iPhone a couple of weeks ago. The only dedicated in-store shopper in my family was my mum (aged 89), who’s been browsing M&S, BHS and Superdrug for months.
So what exactly happened in stores on Saturday, and Sunday? The analysts at Springboard said footfall dropped 4.5% year-on-year at the weekend. That divided out as a fairly big 8.9% fall at shopping centres, a 5.5% drop in high streets, but a 3.3% rise in traffic to retail parks. Week-on-week traffic to high streets and shopping centres was down 0.2% and 2.3%, respectively. But it was up 7% to retail parks. What that means is that the weekend stampede on the high street amounted to a 0.2% footfall increase. Not great, eh?
Springboard said Retail Parks were strong because of the family-focused/leisure activities they offer, their easy parking, and their increasing relevance to click & collect. The click & collect factor meant they benefited from the online migration rather than suffering from it, something that has been seen all year.
Rival tracking specialist FootFall backed up the overall view, saying foot traffic fell 4.3% on Saturday. It added that e-tailers have pushed final delivery dates later (some offering guaranteed delivery if we order by mid-day on December 23) so more of us are shopping online in the final days before Christmas. Just a year ago we would have felt less confident about doing so, especially after last year’s Black Friday late delivery debacle.
Reason 3: Shoppers in control as fashion struggles
In many ways, the above two reasons have put shoppers in the driving seat so discounting is rampant. Deloitte said discounts are averaging 44.9%, the biggest since 2008. Why so deep? Lower-than-expected Black Friday turnover and record mild temperatures have left lots of stock on shelves, especially for the fashion sector.
The fact is, fashion stores have struggled to shift knits, coats, gloves and scarves because of the warm weather. In parts of the country where the weather has been worse, heavy rain might have depressed shopping sentiment. And elsewhere, winter clothes and accessories have faced an uphill struggle due to the trend cycle – there may been some great coats available this year but we’re in a parka trend cycle and maybe last year’s parka will do. And there may have been some fabulous over-knee boots in the stores but shoppers have declared that ankle boots are enough for them – and again, maybe last year’s boots are fine.
Analyst Richard Hyman told the Telegraph online: “Most of the [discounts] we’re seeing aren’t planned and aren’t strategic – they are tactical responses to competition that only the really strong players with strong brands and price relationships with their customers can avoid.”
So there you have it. Check back later in the week (and next week, and the week after!) to so just what will have happened in the final pre-Christmas week and during the January sales.