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Are Britain's high streets set to miss out on a crucial Christmas boost?

Footfall on Britain's high streets was down in November, but retailers will still be hoping for a festive sales rush

Christmas is a crunch time of year for high street retailers, with many anticipating an increase in sales that's crucial to their overall performance in the financial year.

But while consumers are supposed to be taking to the shops in their droves, it seems that 2013's festive period has got off to a slow start. Footfall in November was down by 4.2% compared to 2012, according to new figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), with little sign of any seasonal surge.

At first glance it's a concerning figure. Britain is supposed to be beyond the recession, and Christmas is the one time of year when independent shops expect to be busy. With no spells of severe weather or prolonged snowfall to point to as a possible explanation for the decline, do the statistics simply point to a wider trend?

If people's shopping habits are changing and December proves to be a busier month than November, the festive boost will still be felt - albeit later than expected.

A nationwide issue

The numbers show how every region in the UK has suffered from a drop in footfall. Some have struggled more than others, but the statistics generally suggest the issue isn't a geographical one.

High streets aren't the only areas where retailers are seeing falling numbers of consumers, either. Out-of-town locations and shopping centres also experienced declines of 2.1% and 1% respectively.

With no obvious explanation for the problem, the British Retail Consortium's Helen Dickinson has suggested that there isn't any immediate cause for concern. There's still time for retailers to enjoy a festive boost, and the figures may just simply reflect a new attitude to shopping.

Changing habits

Dickinson's argument is that, with Christmas falling on a Wednesday this year, consumers are simply giving themselves more time to make their purchases. It seems to be a plausible suggestion, and with some retailers having already started to slash prices ahead of the big day it appears the tactic may have paid off for savvy shoppers.

There's also the fact that last November saw a relatively strong performance in terms of footfall, which could be undermining this year's figures. Meanwhile, the recent Small Business Saturday initiative should provide a boost to December's numbers.

Indeed, a total of £468 million was spent in small businesses on December 7th, and with people being encouraged to continue supporting independent retailers in the run up to Christmas the hope is that high streets will see sustained benefits.

Buying time

With just over a week to go until Christmas - not to mention the New Year sales rush that tends to follow - it's reasonable to say that now isn't the time for retailers to panic. If people's shopping habits are changing and December proves to be a busier month than November, the festive boost will still be felt - albeit later than expected. 

Image credit: Gary Radford