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Supply issues to hit Christmas retail footfall but drive up Black Friday shopping

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EDITORIAL USE ONLY The Oxford Street Christmas lights are switched on, in partnership with Capital XTRA, celebrating 60 years of the annual display in London.
Consumer footfall is forecast to be down during a vital six-week period ahead of Christmas. (PA)

Footfall across all UK retail destinations is forecast to be down during the “crucial” six-week Christmas trading period – but up during the Black Friday sales – as consumers worry about supply issues and decide to shop early this year.

Consumers are well aware that a shortage of labour, particularly lorry drivers, has lead to a petrol crisis in the country and major supply chain issues for many sectors. 

For this reason they will try to get their shopping done earlier than usual – likely at the start of November – so they can secure their desired gifts, according to Springboard, a provider of insights on retail activity.

“The ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the supply issue associated with the shortage of heavy good vehicle drivers, which has already affected stock in food stores and led to the recent fuel crisis, will unfortunately cause further issues for bricks-and mortar-retailers over the Christmas trading period,” said Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard.

She added that the end of the furlough scheme plus an increases in energy prices is likely to “further dampen footfall as household spend on Christmas gifts is constrained”.

Springboard has predicted that between 21 November and 4 January, retail footfall will average 17% lower than 2019, before the pandemic hit. This continues from the current trajectory seen in September 2021, with footfall down 17.4%.

The drop is expected to be driven by high streets and shopping centres.

Meanwhile footfall in retail parks has been resilient throughout the pandemic and will average 5.5% higher than 2019 over the six weeks.

Read more: UK high street footfall ticks up as confidence begins to return

It will be particularly strong over the last two weeks of the Christmas trading period, when Brits do their pre-Christmas food shopping.

The boost to retail parks “is likely to be a result of shoppers heading to larger stores where they feel safe, but which also offer a wide range of products, are easy to access with free parking and many of which provide convenient click and collect facilities,” said Wehrle.

The week of Black Friday is expected to be popular, and should see a boost in footfall of 7.9% “as shoppers take advantage of widespread discounting to visit stores to ensure they secure the gifts they want".

This is more than the average uplift in footfall for the week, which was 5.1% between 2014 and 2019, and 1.7% in 2018 and 2019.

Meanwhile footfall in large city centres will strengthen over the six-week Christmas period, overtaking smaller high streets “as consumers look to seek out the Christmas shopping experience they missed last year”, the report said.

UK footfall is likely to continue to rise into the week of Christmas, with an increase of 6.5% from the week before.

“With Christmas Day falling on a weekend this year, this provides a longer final trading week offering consumers an opportunity to shop in store in the immediate days leading up to Christmas when it cannot always be guaranteed that online purchases will be delivered in time,” Springboard said.

Footfall has declined on Boxing Day in every year since 2016, dropping by 8.6% in 2019 from Boxing Day a year earlier.

This is unlikely to change this year as footfall is not only generally lower on Sunday due to reduced hours, but several leading retailers have already announced that they will be shut, which means consumers will defer trips, and spend the day with family.

In the week after Christmas, footfall in high streets and shopping centres will drop by around 20%, in keeping with the trend of the past decade.

However, a need to replenish groceries after Boxing Day combined with discounting will continue to drive increased footfall into retail parks.

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