Retail footfall rose by +5.8% in December (MoM), versus a drop of -0.2% in November from October and a rise of +2.7% in October from September, according to the latest Springboard Footfall Monitor.
However, the rise was lower than in previous years, which Springboard attributes to the rising cost of living.
"December brought some positive news for retailers, despite the cost of living crisis and the disruption to footfall caused by the rail strikes in the penultimate week of what is the biggest trading month of the year," says Springboard's marketing and insights director, Diane Wehrle.
"Footfall rose by +5.8% over the month, by +9.9% from December 2021, and the gap from the 2019 footfall level narrowed to -10.9%, from -11.4% in November.
"There is no doubt that rail strikes impact retail and hospitality at the time they occur. In the penultimate week before Christmas all UK destinations were impacted by the four-day rail strikes, as the gap from the 2019 footfall level more than doubled to -20.1% from -9.6% in the week before and -11% in the first week of the month.
"However, the longer-term impact of the strikes on December’s footfall appeared to be negligible, with the +5.8% increase from November in line with Springboard’s forecast of +6% published at the beginning of Q4 prior to the rail strikes being announced. Even at the beginning of Q4, due to the cost of living crisis, Springboard forecast that footfall would be below the average increase of +9.6% over the month (recorded between 2009 and 2019). The gap from the 2019 footfall level of -10.9% was also in line with Springboard’s forecast, and the uplift of +9.9% over the month from 2021 was more than double its +4.2% forecast.
"What is also evident is that while many employees worked from home in December due to the strikes, consumers were not deterred from visiting bricks-and-mortar stores, and shifted some of their trips away from high streets to shopping centres and retail parks which can be more easily reached by car. Whilst high street footfall rose by just +1.6% in December from the month before against a forecast of +4.5%, footfall in shopping centres rose by +13.1% and by +7.2% in retail parks. versus forecast increases of +10% and +5% respectively. In part, the attraction of physical retail for consumers will have been heightened by concerns around deliveries due to the postal strike, which will have become more significant as the month progressed.
"Despite the positive outcome for retail destinations in December, it is indisputable that the strain on household budgets due to the cost of living crisis is likely to begin to tell in January, and that the first quarter of 2023 will be challenging for retail. In any event, we should expect footfall in January to be circa -20% lower than in December, which is the magnitude of decline that has occurred in January in every year since Springboard started publishing its footfall data in 2009.
"The expected drop off in footfall in what is the worst point of the year for retail is likely to be exacerbated by further rail strikes planned for virtually all of the first week in January. This is particularly the case for high streets, as employees will work from home and many shopping trips will once again be diverted to retail parks and shopping centres."