High street hit by weak Christmas trading as number of shoppers falls 3.7%

Disappointing set of figures after many stores pinned their hopes on sparkling Christmas trading following a weak autumn

The British high street suffered a dismal Christmas as new figures reveal the number of shoppers fell 3.7 per cent in December compared to a year earlier.

Figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) showed numbers were down 3.8 per cent in the last quarter of the year, the worst drop since August 2012.

Overall footfall recorded by the BRC/Springboard monitor was down 2.4% in December compared to a year earlier. It was double the 1.2 per cent year-on-year declineseen in December 2012.

High streets suffered more than out-of-town locations which were down 0.6 per cent, and shopping centres which were off by 1.5 per cent.

The 2.4 per cent overall fall was an improvement on the heavier decline in November but will be seen as a disappointment after many stores pinned their hopes on sparkling Christmas trading following a weak autumn.

It comes after separate data showed almost one in five non-food purchases were made online in December, as overall retail sales grew 0.4 per cent on a like-for-like basis.

BRC director-general Helen Dickinson said: "These figures highlight how the rapid evolution of multichannel is changing the face of shopping, particularly at Christmas.

"Rather than making multiple trips to the shops over the festive period, many of us planned ahead for our gift-buying and took advantage of retailers' investment in services like click-and-collect."

Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, added: "Footfall increased over the month from November, but it was just not enough to deliver an increase from December 2012."

Shoppers had delayed visits to the high street early in the month as they anticipated pre-Christmas discounts before severe weather in the days leading up to December 25 hampered a hoped-for late surge.

In England, the worst decline was in the South West, where footfall was down 3.4%. Wales saw a drop of 3.8% while Northern Ireland saw an 8.7 per cent slump and Scotland's numbers were down 1.9 per cent.

Additional reporting agencies