Page last updated at 00:59 GMT, Thursday, 1 January 2009

Shopper levels 'fell in December'

Christmas shoppers in London
Shops are expected to see poor trading continue into 2009

Shopper numbers in December were down 3.1% from the same month in 2007, despite a rush to the shops over the last week, a study has found.

The latest Retail Insight Report from the financial data provider Experian found an overall drop in retail footfall for the month.

This came despite footfall in the last week of December being 12.8% higher than in the same seven days in 2007.

Experian now predicts 1,400 retailers will become insolvent next year.

'Unprecedented discounting'

"The last minute surge in shoppers came as a relief to retailers, but for most it was not nearly enough," said Jonathan de Mello, director of retail consultancy at Experian.

There is no disguising the fact that 2008 has been an annus horribilis for the retail sector, and there is little prospect of improvement in 2009
Jonathan de Mello, Experian

"The boost in numbers [in the last week of December] was driven by massive, unprecedented discounting all at the expense of retailer margins."

Across the nations and regions of the UK, Scotland saw the biggest decline in retail footfall in December - down 6.74% from a year earlier.

This was followed by the north-west of England, down 6.69%, and eastern England, which was 3.8% lower.

Yorkshire and Humber was the only region which saw an increase, with footfall rising by 0.85% during the month.

Experian found that the most searched for products by bargain hunters were televisions, iPod music players and laptop computers.

Empty shops

Looking ahead, Experian estimates that there will be about 1,400 retail insolvencies in 2009 - a 21% rise from 2008 - with an inevitable knock-on impact on jobs.

UK -3.12%
Eastern -3.80%
London -1.27%
North West -6.69%
Scotland -6.74%
South East -1.12%
East Midlands -2.27%
North East -0.52%
South West & Wales -2.31%
West Midlands -3.64%
Yorkshire & Humber +0.85%
December 2008 compared with December 2007. Source: Experian

It further predicts that at least one in 10 stores will remain empty in 2009.

"There is no disguising the fact that 2008 has been an annus horribilis for the retail sector, and there is little prospect of improvement in 2009," added Mr de Mello.

The British Retail Consortium has already warned that a last minute surge in Christmas sales would not be enough to prevent a "poor" December.

A number of well-known retailers have gone into administration in December, including Woolworths, Zavvi, Whittard and The Officer's Club.

The final Woolworths stores are due to close on 5 January after administrator Deloitte failed to find a buyer for the whole company.

Music and games retailer Zavvi went into administration on Christmas Eve.

Tea and coffee specialist Whittard went into administration before Christmas due to "trading difficulties", but it was quickly bought for an undisclosed sum by Epic private equity partners.

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