Festive footfall down, spending up

Visits to pubs, bars and restaurants fell over the crucial Christmas period, CGA Strategy’s definitive new survey of December trading reveals—but spending increased.

The research found that visits to the UK’s on-trade were down by 9% on the same period in 2014—a substantial decline that reflects changing consumer habits, flooding in some areas and competition from other leisure activities, led by the new Star Wars film. Key trading periods were particularly badly hit, with the weekend of what is now known as ‘Mad Friday’ seeing 4.2 million fewer visits in 2015, possibly following negative media coverage.

But CGA Strategy’s Trading Index also shows that customers spent considerably more on average when they went out, leading to year on year growth of 2.9% in value terms. Sales on Christmas Day, up by 3.7% year on year, were particularly strong.

CGA Strategy’s figures chime with separate data from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker, which identified solid trading in the two weeks over Christmas and New Year following a sluggish start to December. Over the six weeks to 3 January, the Tracker shows that managed pub and bar businesses saw a 3.1% rise in sales against the same period a year earlier.

The research indicates that nearly one in three consumers visited a Christmas market in 2015, with 1.2 million people going to a pop-up bar—a sign of the strong competition that street food and drink operators are bringing to the eating and drinking out markets.

CGA Strategy’s study also reveals significant changes in consumer behaviour at Christmas. They include a decline in pub and bar visits over the festive season from a valuable and engaged demographic that CGA terms ‘The Avoider’. A second consumer type is ‘The Celebrator’, who ordinarily tend to drink less and are disengaged with brands, but who visit pubs and bars more often at Christmas. The third is ‘The Reliable’, a generally young demographic who visits pubs and bars regularly, and slightly more often over Christmas.

CGA Strategy’s client services director Rachel Perryman said: “Slower footfall made it a challenging Christmas for pub and bar businesses, but they emerged from it with decent sales growth. Our research shows the complexity of the festive market and how consumer behaviour varies over the festive season. It means operators need to be sure what their customers want from their experiences and tailor their sales and marketing strategies accordingly.”

Data is taken from CGA Strategy’s Trading Index and consumer surveys. For more information about the research, call CGA Strategy on 0161 476 8330 or visit www.cgastrategy.co.uk.