• Footfall down on Black Friday morning compared to 2014
  • But retailers and shopping centre landlords expect a bumper afternoon
  • Analysts say online has been the “main beneficiary” this year

Footfall fell across the UK during the first four hours of Black Friday trading as shoppers opted to hunt online for cut-price promotions.

Springboard said retail parks suffered most as shopper numbers slumped 8.9% between 8am and midday compared with Black Friday 2014.

The footfall experts said high streets reported a 6.5% decline in customers, while footfall at shopping centres dropped 4.6%.

Analysts said the falling shopper numbers were driven by a combination of consumers choosing to buy discounted goods online rather than in store and the move by many retailers to spread their deals out over a longer promotional period.

Online the ‘main beneficiary’

Currys PC World was among the big online winners after it reported selling 100 large screen TVs per minute during the afternoon. The retailer welcomed 400,000 visitors per minute to its website during peak trading times, up 70% on last year.

Data from PCA Predict suggested increasing numbers of online shoppers was a widespread theme across the sector. It said that online activity jumped 28% compared to Black Friday 2014.

Kantar Retail senior vice-president and knowledge officer Bryan Roberts said: “Online is definitely the main beneficiary and I think the overspill in terms of timings means today has been less significant than it could otherwise have been. Retailers have been running deals most of this week and will certainly be running deals until at least next Monday.

“I can’t see it being a sustainable practice in physical stores for that much longer, probably with the exception of department stores and electronics specialists.

“All the clothing and footwear stores were doing it, they were open early and massively overstaffed given the absence of shoppers.

“The same can be said for supermarkets – the level of disruption that Tesco inflicted on itself would have hurt the food business and they weren’t overwhelmed in terms of shopper numbers. I can see the supermarkets following Asda’s lead, or doing it in a much more sedate way or online only.”

“I can’t see Black Friday being a sustainable practice in physical stores for that much longer.”

Bryan Roberts, Kantar Retail

Independent retail analyst Nick Bubb agreed that shoppers had been spreading their spending out this year, rather than concentrating larger shops into one day.

He said: “It looks as if Black Friday spending has been more spread out this year and more weighted to online, but every indication is that the combined event will be bigger than last year overall.

“It is too soon to say whether the retail sector will be any better off in net terms once the dust settles.”

As shoppers made more purchases online, around 25% of retailers suffered from website crashes, according to data from Ampersand. John Lewis, Argos, River Island and Game were among the high profile retailers to have brief outages during Black Friday.

Bumper afternoon

Click and collect has again proved popular as a fulfilment option among shoppers and springboard is predicting that will help drive shoppers into stores and deliver a bumper afternoon. It predicted that overall footfall would jump 11.5% on the day despite a slow morning of trading.

Intu operations director Gordon McKinnon admitted the shopping centre landlord had also reported a fall in the number of people visiting its malls so far compared with last year’s sales extravaganza.

But he said Intu was braced for a busier afternoon and evening trading period at its centres, which are opening later than usual today.

McKinnon told Retail Week: “We are still pulling the figures together, but there’s a very different pattern to last year. Across the country, there were a flurry of early risers out to get the bargains in our centres, but then it settled down.

“Numbers are a little bit down at this point against last year across the country as a whole, but there are some highlights where centres are doing extremely well. But there is no doubt it is picking up as we go through the day and it looks as though we will be busier later in the afternoon and into the evening.”

Central London

Springboard added that footfall dipped by 1.3% in central London between 8am and midday, but the New West End Company reported a 10% increase in shopper numbers in prime retail streets including London’s Oxford Street and Regent Street.

New West End Company chief executive Jace Tyrrell said: “We’ve seen a tremendous start to the day in London’s West End this Black Friday – in the first four hours of trading we have seen a 10% uplift in footfall compared with Black Friday last year. There is a terrific atmosphere on the streets, with shoppers enjoying the first discounts of the season in an unashamedly festive setting.

“In light of the footfall figures we have seen so far, we look set to be on course for the busiest trading day in London’s West End so far this year.”

Retailers in the West End expect £100m to be spent today and £200m across the weekend.