By Daniel Hunter

The Retail Traffic Index (RTI), compiled by Ipsos Retail Performance, registered a year-on-year drop of 7.1% across the UK in October. The numbers of trips to non-food stores were also 2.2% fewer than in September, making it a disappointing month for retailing.

The CBI’s Distributive Trade Survey also signalled that retailers were having a tougher month, with a balance of only +2 in October, compared to +34 in September. The dramatic swing was a stark reality check for the sector and underlines just how volatile retailing remains. The figures suggest that consumers are now biding their time before the Christmas period.

“We shouldn’t be too surprised that footfall took a bit of a tumble in October,” explains Dr Tim Denison, Director of Retail Intelligence at Ipsos Retail Performance.

“The announcement of significant energy price rises rocked consumer confidence and made many re-evaluate their personal financial situations again, reflecting the frailty of the consumer’s economic recovery. Any factor like this that further hits household pockets, when average weekly earnings remain steadfastly static, causes householders extra angst and an immediate response.

“Pondering on the psychology of shopping at this time of the year, with the clocks turned back, darker evenings and the nip in the Autumnal air turn people’s thoughts towards Christmas. The October figures suggest that shoppers are taking early action and putting money aside to ensure they have enough spending power.

"Shoppers believe their hard-earned cash will stretch further as we go into the festive season, as more bargains are to be had on the high street, so many seem content to throttle back their spending until then. The start of the cat-and-mouse season has begun early this year.”

Whilst shoppers are expected to stay sitting on their hands in November, the indications are that the Christmas trading period will be stronger than retailers have experienced over recent years. Discounts have become more of an expectation for shoppers rather than a bonus, so tills are unlikely to ring without them this year, but smaller volumes of stock should mean that retailers are able to sell goods at higher prices.

“We can expect an intriguing eight weeks ahead of us,” adds Denison.

Year-on-year footfall comparisons were mixed across UK regions. Scotland and Northern Ireland was the only region that recorded a narrowing of the gap from September. The region also stood alone as the only one to record month-on-month growth in October. Footfall figures in The Midlands continued to struggle the most, seeing double digit year-on-year decline.

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