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By Daniel Hunter
Footfall in December was 1.2% lower than a year ago, a poorer performance than the 0.4% rise the previous month, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
Footfall weakened in all three locations compared with a year earlier. Shopping centres reported the greatest fall (-2.8%), followed by out-of-town (-1.0%) and high street (-0.5%) locations.
The hardest-hit parts of the UK in December were Wales (-11.5%), the East of England (-7.1%) and the North & Yorkshire (-4.8%).
Four nations/regions reported an increase in footfall, including the West Midlands (10.0%), Scotland (6.2%) and Greater London (3.1%).
On a month-on-month basis footfall rose considerably in all locations. Shopping centres increased 19.5% followed by high street (8.8%) and out-of-town (7.3%) locations.
Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said: "It wasn't a bumper Christmas but it wasn't a disaster either. Our December retail sales figures showed very modest sales growth for the market as a whole.
"Although overall shopper numbers were slightly down on 2011, it appears that conversion rates were good — when people did get out to the shops they bought more per trip. The growing popularity of online retail also had an impact on shopper numbers, but it's important to remember that online retail sales are only just over 10 per cent of all retail spending and many people took advantage of the investment retailers have made in giving flexible delivery options. Click-online and collect-in-store came into its own.
"High streets have a particular appeal at Christmas. They had a smaller drop in footfall than shopping centres or out-of-town locations but, across the year as a whole, it's a different story. At minus 3.3 per cent, high streets suffered the biggest drop-off in shopper numbers. Generally, weak spending power is keeping people away and compounding long-standing difficulties in many of our town centres. This month's retail failures confirm the challenges are far from over.
"The Government should help erase the pain with a business rates freeze in April. Another steep rise can only lead to fewer jobs, less investment and more troubled high streets."
Diane Wehrle, Research Director at Springboard, said: "The tough trading conditions faced by retailers are reflected in footfall trends, with annual declines in all but one week in both November and December which coincided with the payday weekends. In December, customers were savvy to retailers' discounting, leaving it very late to do the bulk of their Christmas shopping, holding off until the last full week before Christmas when footfall increased annually by 7.5 per cent. However, this late surge wasn't enough to drive footfall up from last year, leaving the month down by 1.2 per cent year on year.
"The positive sales increases in November and December indicate that shoppers are making fewer trips but spending more per visit. With online sales registering their highest uplift this year, consumers are clearly incorporating the internet fully into their purchasing journey to compare products and prices, and the growth in importance of "click and collect" is a positive trend in attracting footfall for retail locations.
"Interestingly, high streets have latterly been more resilient than shopping centres, with smaller year on year declines in footfall in November and December. However, at least part of this is a function of the fact that footfall in high streets previously fell more than that in shopping centres so additional falls are coming from a lower base. It seems that the impact of the tough trading environment is now reverberating through to shopping centres and retail parks.
"Regionally, the West Midlands bucked the trend with a 10 per cent uplift year on year. Other regions or nations which performed positively were Greater London, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which is a promising end to a challenging year for these parts of the UK."
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