The British high street was dealt another blow this week as it experienced the biggest drop in Boxing Day footfall in almost 10 years, bringing a sombre end to an already difficult year.
Retail data provider Springboard calculated that, as of 4PM on Boxing Day, shopper numbers were down 9.7% overall across the country, and high street footfall had dropped by a massive 13.3% compared to the same period in 2018. The slump has been attributed to a combination of poor weather and changes in shopper behaviour, as well as a general tendency towards thrift caused by ongoing economic uncertainty. But one factor seems to outweigh the others: the arrival of Black Friday.
Once a mainstay of the retail calendar, the Boxing Day sales have lost some of their lustre in recent years. Diane Wehrle, the Insights Director at Springboard says that “Boxing Day is indisputably a less important trading day than it once was.” Black Friday has arrived on the scene and, in just a few short years, has become our preferred time to shop for bargains. The fact that it occurs before Christmas works in its favour as, unlike the Boxing Day sales, customers have the opportunity to pick up cheap Christmas presents for their friends and family as well as items for themselves.
Black Friday has also been embraced by many of the major online retailers such as Amazon and eBay, giving Boxing Day little chance to compete. Diane Wehrle points out the clear discrepancy between the two, saying that “Footfall on Boxing Day morning this year is 10.9% lower than footfall over the same period on Black Friday.”
A shift in sales from Boxing Day to Black Friday wouldn’t be a problem for the UK high street if it meant the same overall footfall. The problem is that Black Friday is an overwhelmingly internet-based event, and so the end result is less business for the high street. With huge savings to be made online in November, and free delivery and returns now the norm for most online retailers, shoppers have little reason to brave the December weather in search of bargains.
After an especially tough year which saw the loss of Jessops, Thomas Cook and Spudulike as well as widespread closures of Debenhams and Mothercare stores, the dominance of Black Friday is more bad news for the high street.