Christmas could be on ice after snow derailed trading on the third weekend before Christmas – a typically busy period for retailers.
On Sunday, after heavy snow, footfall slumped nearly 22% compared to the same day last year, according to figures from Springboard.
Across the weekend, footfall declined 9.1% year-on-year, as high streets, retail parks and shopping centres were all hit by the cold weather.
Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle said: “Sunday was an important trading day and the snow will have impacted many retailers.
“It’s lucky that the worst of it fell on the Sunday rather than the Saturday, as it was the shorter trading day, but it hit at a particularly bad time – just when trading was set to pick up again after the Black Friday weekend.”
Wehrle said businesses could potentially recover this weekend coming but warned that, if the weather remains harsh, it will dampen discretionary spend and drive shoppers online.
In order to mitigate the damage caused by the weather, retailers need to make destinations “irresistible”, Wehrle said.
According to Shore Capital head of research Clive Black, the start of this week was “unlikely to be a barrel of laughs for the nation’s shopkeepers either” with icy footpaths and many public offices still closed.
However, both Fat Face chief executive Anthony Thompson and Wyevale boss Roger Mclaughlan pointed out that, because some schools were closed on Monday, there was an unexpected uptick in shopping activity at many shopping destinations.
Thompson acknowledged that the snow “definitely affected” the fashion retailer over the weekend, but he insisted it was “not in any way that would materially affect Christmas results”.
Christmas cut back
Snowy conditions came as data from shopper and retail marketing agency Savvy found that financial uncertainty will cause shoppers to cut back on Christmas spending this year.
A survey of 1,000 UK consumers found that shoppers are planning to reduce Christmas spend in a number of areas this year.
“The slowing retail spending momentum we’ve seen in October and November is likely to continue throughout the golden quarter, slowing retail spending momentum,” Savvy insight director Alastair Lockhart said.
A third of shoppers said they will spend less on Christmas clothing this year. More than a fifth – 22% – will buy fewer gifts for friends and family and 32% plan to spend less on decorations.
Lockhart said the slowdown could have “worrying implications” for retailers who were “already feeling nervous”.
When will people shop?
Savvy found that 58% of consumers planned to buy Christmas presents during the first two weeks of December, with 38% doing the bulk of their purchasing then.
However, these plans are likely to have been scuppered by the weekend’s weather.
Commenting on last weekend’s snowfall, Savvy chief executive Catherine Shuttleworth said: “The weather is always changeable at this time of year and last weekend’s snowfall will have spooked shoppers and retailers alike albeit for slightly different reasons.
“The other big impact of the weather is the onwards effect including home delivery and online shopping deliveries as these will now be backlogged.”
Where will people shop?
Savvy said that 58% of shoppers anticipate shopping for more gifts online this year.
In terms of festive food, a third of respondents plan to do their main Christmas grocery shop at Tesco, with 76% still opting to use the big four.
12% are planning to use discounters Aldi or Lidl and 6% will use a premium retailer.
Retailers remain positive
Despite the chilly outlook, retailers generally remained optimistic.
The Works chief executive Kevin Keaney said: “Whenever we’ve had a tough economy, we’ve still had good Christmases. People want to celebrate and cheer themselves up. Even when times are tough and people are being thrifty, parents will spend on their children and Christmas.”
Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe also played down fears of a spending slowdown this Christmas.
He maintained that while shoppers are “very value-conscious” amid the turbulent political and macroeconomic climate, they will still “put their hands in their pockets” during the golden quarter.
Fat Face’s Thompson said while he thinks it’s “premature” to call Christmas, he is “pleased” so far, with consumers beginning to “get into the Christmas spirit” last week.
Hawkins Bazaar boss David Mordecai agreed, adding that shoppers are likely to leave their gifting until the very last minute: “People are just leaving it later and later, and given there’s a whole weekend before Christmas Day on the Monday, Saturday December 23rd will be an amazing day out on the high street.”
Last month, Deloitte said shoppers were likely to increase their Christmas spending by 1.8% this year – spending £544 each this Christmas overall and £284 on presents.
Springboard’s Wehrle was not so positive, claiming that Christmas this year will be “restrained” but not disastrous.
“People are going to be cautious. We think footfall will be down a touch, as well as spending levels,” she concluded.