Virtual becomes reality as British shop visits fall in December

15 Jan, 2018 11:09 am

LONDON (Reuters) – The number of people visiting British stores in December showed its biggest decline for five years, illustrating how retail is being transformed by online shopping, a survey showed on Monday.

Year-on-year footfall fell by 3.5 percent in the five weeks to Dec. 30, the biggest decline since March 2013 when it dropped by 5.2 percent, the survey by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and researcher Springboard found.

The December figure was significantly below the 12-month rolling average of a 0.7 percent decline.

“In the past, shoppers would have exclusively visited physical stores to ensure stockings were filled for Christmas,” BRC Chief Executive Helen Dickinson said in a statement.

All regions of Britain showed a drop in footfall in December, with the sharpest falls in Scotland (down 4.7 percent), south west England (down 5.2 percent) and Greater London (down 3.7 percent).

“Improved delivery options by both purely digital retailers and those with stores and an online offer mean many purchases of last minute gifts are moving online,” Dickinson said, adding that a squeeze on discretionary spending had played a part.

British consumers are under pressure from slow wage growth, compounded by higher inflation in the wake of the 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union.

Consumers cut back on almost everything other than food purchases in the run-up to Christmas, company statements and survey data this month have shown.

But changing shopping habits, particularly the growth of online sales, have also been a feature and several UK retailers are already taking action to re-shape their store portfolios.

M&S said in November it would speed up store closures, relocations and downsizings and slow down openings of its ‘Simply Food’ outlets.

And last month Toys R Us UK won creditor approval for a plan that will see the closure of at least 26 of its 105 British stores in 2018 and reduced rent on the rest.

Department store House of Fraser is also seeking to reduce space and rent, while media reports have said fashion retailer New Look is seeking landlord agreement to close some stores.

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