Retailers hoping for a last-minute rush of Christmas shoppers on “Super Saturday” may be disappointed as trade looked set to peak before the weekend.
Springboard said footfall rose by 10.4% between Thursday and Friday.
Based on historical data when Christmas Day fell earlier in the week, Friday is the busiest day as people tend to use Saturday to travel.
Nevertheless, firms like Hammerson expect two million people to visit its shopping centres this weekend.
“There’s always an uptick in footfall at this time of the year, as shoppers start to worry about whether online orders will be delivered in time for the big day,” said Mark Bourgeois, UK & Ireland managing director at Hammerson, whose shopping centres include the Bullring in Birmingham and London’s Brent Cross.
But Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, the retail experts, said: “Footfall peaks on Friday rather than Saturday. Last year, footfall dropped by 3.8% between Friday and Saturday and this is a trend we have seen in previous years.”
- Reality Check: Has it been the worst November for retailers?
- UK High Streets ‘have twice as many shops as needed’
Although footfall across the High Street, retail parks and shopping centres rose from Thursday, Springboard said that compared to Friday last year it dropped by 6.7%.
Westfield, however, is still expecting a “Super” Saturday.
It said that over last weekend, between 14-16 December, 850,000 people descended on its London-based shopping centres in Stratford and Shepherd’s Bush.
Myf Ryan, chief marketing officer for Europe and group director of brand and strategic marketing at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, said that since the Black Friday sales in November it has seen double digit growth in footfall and expects strong trade on the “three full trading days” before Christmas Day.
But Ms Wehrle said that one of the problems retailers have faced this year is that Black Friday sales have lasted much longer and that there is an unprecedented number of shops that are offering pre-Christmas discounts.
Recently, Mike Ashley, the Sports Direct founder and chief executive who also owns House of Fraser and a large stake in Debenhams, said last month was the “worst November in living memory” and predicted some retailers would be “smashed to pieces”.
Deloitte, the accountancy firm, said that retail discounts on goods are running at an average 43.6% and are expected to rise to a record 48% on Christmas Eve as shops look to shift stock.
Jason Gordon, lead consumer analytics partner at Deloitte, said: “Christmas falling on a Tuesday, shorter Sunday opening hours and many choosing the weekend prior to Christmas to travel to friends or family will complicate the last few crucial days trading.
“This is why we expect retailers to ramp up their discounting earlier than normal in an attempt to clear stock.”
Deloitte said general economic and business uncertainty has made consumers cautious about spending while milder weather means retailers have too much winter stock in store.
Ms Wehrle said that retailers with an online offering will be hoping internet shopping will make-up for weaker sales in their stores.
Although she said that online growth was also slowing because of factors such as Brexit uncertainty as well as higher levels of credit card debt following a prolonged period when wage growth fell below inflation.
Last week, online fashion retailer Asos issued a profit warning after “unprecedented” discounting hit trading in November.
And Ms Wehrle expects to see more retailers warn on profits in January or, at the very least, report weaker sales for the festive period.
Looking ahead, Mr Gordon said: “Against a backdrop of considerable business uncertainty across the sector, many retailers will extend their Christmas sales deep into January, with some having little option but to run through early February and even beyond.
“While this is unprecedented, it will not be a surprise.”