The final weekend before Christmas will see some 10m shoppers parting with £1.38bn on the high street, compared with just £268m on last-minute online orders, according to one survey.
The anticipated rush should provide an antidote for the last disappointing weekend, with freezing rain on the back of Storm Deirdre blamed for lowering shopper numbers by 4.3 per cent on the same weekend last year.
The figures, from retail intelligence experts Springboard, paint an improved picture for traders. The proportion of sales on the high street and at out-of-town shopping centres was lower by only 0.1 per cent than the same period last year, compared with falls of 7.6 and 2.5 per cent in the previous two years.
Although the face of shopping centres has been altered by a string of high-profile failures this year, their cause was more likely to be “cyclical influences” and “temporary factors” than the rise of internet shopping, the real estate advisor, CBRE, said.
House of Fraser, Evans Cycles, Toys R Us, Poundworld and the electronic retailer Maplin were among the stores to fall into administration, while the fashion chain New Look, Marks and Spencer and Debenhams all announced store closures.
However, the latest store to see a downturn is the online-only retailer Asos, which warned investors it had experienced a “significant deterioration” in trading in the run-up to Christmas.
Meanwhile, in at least one pocket of Yorkshire, traders were reporting that the tactile experience of physical shopping was driving people back onto the high street.
“Retail is a challenging environment but we seem to be bucking the trend,” said Mark Brayshaw, manager of Visit Malton, the community interest company that promotes retailing in the self-styled “food capital” of the North York Moors.
“When we had our Christmas market the weekend before last, all the bricks and mortar retailers reported their best Saturday ever, with one in particular saying it was the best plus 25 per cent.
“People are obviously making a conscious decision to go and buy locally rather than on the internet. They like the provenance of local products.”
The inconvenience of waiting for online orders to be delivered may be another factor.
A survey from the consumer group Which? today reveals that nearly six people in 10 who shopped by computer last Christmas had a problem with parcels being left in the wrong place, taken to the tip by the binmen or otherwise misdelivered.
The British Retail Consortium said: “With many shoppers not wanting to risk last-minute home deliveries, we can expect the shops to be very busy in the last week before Christmas as people go out to buy both food and presents.”
Steve Richardson, director of analyst ShopperTrak UK, said: “As the last working day for many before Christmas, Friday marks the moment that shoppers move away from buying online and instead head into stores to finish off Christmas shopping.
“In spite of retailers offering later and later fulfilment options, shoppers will head on to the high street, fuelled by the fear that online gifts may not arrive in time for the big day.”