Christmas sales figures expose full depths of high-street woe

Hit by heavy rain and flooding, fewer shoppers headed out in the north of England than in any other region

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The Independent Online

Footfall on the high street “shrivelled” before Christmas as stores were hit by a combination of the wet weather and online shopping, new data reveals today.

Across the UK, shopper numbers slumped 2.2 per cent on the previous year in December, with high streets down 4 per cent, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the industry analyst Springboard. 

But out-of-town retail parks continued to draw trade, up 2.1 per cent.

The figures reveal the extent of a dire Christmas for the high street as a cold snap failed to materialise, hitting clothing retailers.   

The unseasonable weather, increasing popularity of online shopping and the early shopping binge created by the Black Friday promotional phenomenon combined to deter consumers from splashing the cash in stores last month. 

The north of England, which suffered heavy rain and flooding, was the region where the fewest shoppers headed out, although Scotland registered a 0.2 per cent rise. 

By contrast, almost one pound in every five was spent online in December, with sales up 19.7 per cent, according to the BRC and the accountancy firm KPMG last week. 

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Shopper footfall shrivelled once again last month and at a faster rate than compared to the three-month average.

“Retailers are having to revamp their businesses in order to respond to the profound changes in the way we are all shopping.”

These changes were reflected in the trading of some of retail’s biggest names. 

The high-street stalwarts Next and Marks & Spencer both revealed that shoppers shunned jackets, scarves and gloves. M&S’s chief executive, Marc Bolland, decided to “retire” after posting poor trading. 

However, two of Britain’s most troubled retail businesses, Tesco and Morrisons, both posted a surprise rise in same-store sales over the Christmas period last week at the expense of Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, all of which reported lacklustre food sales.