Seasonal sales: the Christmas retail report

The Christmas 2017 season was a challenging one for nursery and preschool retailers, with heavy snow and Black Friday sales getting the season off to a slow start. However, the last few days before the main event saw shoppers finding their feet and getting into the Christmas spirit.

With many shoppers leaving their present buying until the very last minute and the continued reliance on online shopping seeing many avoiding the high street altogether, the season got off to a disappointing start.

UK retail footfall fell by 9.9% over the first three weeks of December and heavy snow in the second week also resulted in a significant drop in national retail footfall – more than 20%.

The footfall figures – measured by Ipsos Retail’s Retail Traffic Index – also highlighted the effect of Black Friday promotional activity in November, which pulled forward some seasonal purchases and had a knock-on effect on December activity.

There was, however, a sharp rise in shoppers hitting the high street during the last few days before Christmas (Monday 18 to Friday 22 December) compared to the same five days of the previous week, with figures showing a boost of more then 35%.

This may have been due to a number of key retailers – including Tesco, Mothercare and House of Fraser – launching their sales early in a bid to boost sales prior to Christmas. Despite this, numbers were still down by 6% on 2016 figures.

“In-store shopping remains part of Christmas, but consumers tend to leave trips to the shops until later, having done some planned purchasing online,” says Dr Tim Denison, director at Ipsos Retail Performance. “Increasingly [consumers] turn to the shops for inspiration for awkward presents or those last-minute gifts that they daren’t rely on home delivery for.”

This pattern fits the early Christmas results announced so far, with Next raising hopes by revealing a better than expected Christmas, with strong online sales (up by 13.6%) offsetting a dip in trading in its high street stores (down by 6.1%).

Similar results are expected to be reported across the retail sector next week as retailers including Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, John Lewis and House of Fraser issue their Christmas trading results.

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