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Christmas shoppers provide boost despite rail strikes and cost-of-living crisis

Christmas shoppers provided retail and hospitality with a crucial boost despite the cost-of-living crisis and rail strikes, figures show.

Shopper footfall in December was up 5.8% on the month before and 9.9% higher than a year before, while the all-important gap between pre-pandemic 2019 also narrowed to 10.9% from 11.4% in November, according to retail consultants Springboard.

December footfall on high streets was 12.7% higher than in 2021, while shopping centres saw a 10.3% uplift and retail parks also enjoyed 3.6% more visitors.

However, in the penultimate week before Christmas, marred by four days of rail strikes, footfall was 20.1% lower than 2019, more than doubling from 9.6% the week before.

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said: “There is no doubt that rail strikes impact retail and hospitality at the time they occur.

“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.

“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.”

Ms Wehrle added: “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.”