“The idea ‘women naked, trade dead’ is one of the past. Now ideal weather conditions with more hours of sunshine are more decisive for city center visits than special sales promotions such as Black Friday, shopping Sunday or shopping evening.” That is roughly the conclusion from the visitor figures collected by Bureau RMC for the first six months of this year.
For years, Huib Lubbers of Bureau RMC has been proclaiming that municipalities should not only focus on a varied range of shops in their city centers, but also on sufficient entertainment. Never before has he seen that trend reflected so strongly in the figures as in the first six months of this year. Climate change is apparently not only happening on a global scale, but also on the shopping street.
“Old mechanisms no longer work,” says Lubbers. “January used to be a good shopping month with all the sales. In March, people went on the hunt for new furniture and spring clothing. That effect hardly exists anymore. Special promotions such as Black Friday are also losing importance. The city center becomes a place for entertainment, where you want to sit on a terrace in the sun after shopping.”
First the underlying question. Was there a direct reason to conduct this research?
Huib Lubbers: “Research into shopper behavior in shopping streets and stores is one of our core themes. With our CityTraffic method we always measure how many visitors there are in a shopping area and shopping street. What I noticed recently was that peaks in visitors to shopping streets are not so much caused by retail activities, but rather by events such as King’s Day or Liberation Day. These are more important impulses for shopping street visits than traditional peaks such as clearance sales, shopping evenings, Saturdays or Sundays.
What also plays a role in this context is the history of the corona period. In January 2022, stores were still subject to restrictive measures, such as closing non-essential stores. The expectation was that we could expect a more positive outcome at the beginning of this year. Not so. The first three months were actually worse compared to last year. The reason for this was the weather conditions. The first three months of this year were cold and wet. It just wasn’t nice shopping weather.”
Is there a reason why traditional retail peaks are less effective than they used to be?
“There are no longer traditionally strong moments that capture the imagination of shoppers. The Three Crazy Days of De Bijenkorf was such a moment, as was the Prize Circus of V&D. We said goodbye to that a while ago. And clearance in general: no one in the Netherlands knows anymore when the clearance starts and when it ends.
In Belgium it is a bit different. The start and end dates are precisely laid down in the legislation. In the Netherlands there were no rules regarding the clearance period. There was something like an underlying habit: non-food stores started the clearance period at the end of June and the beginning of July. You actually don’t see that anymore. Clearance has taken on a structural character. There are no longer collective sales moments, it has mainly become a solitary, store-driven activity.”
Halloween or Valentine’s Day, for example, aren’t they collective moments?
“Well, they never really did much. This applies to a time like Black Friday, especially in combination with the Saturday and Sunday after. Those were considerable pluses. Nowadays, remarkably, a moment like Green Friday is gaining popularity, with participating companies making an effort to plant trees through sustainable forest projects. Companies such as Dille & Kamille, Decathlon, Innocent, ANWB, and Intratuin are now participating.
And then Christmas: for me that is the clearest illustration of this current situation. Between Sinterklaas and Christmas was always the busiest time of the year. The view was that retailers made their turnover until December 10, after which they only started making a profit. This extreme crowds are also gone. Yes, it is busy at the end of the year, but not as busy as it used to be. The same applies to the autumn holidays, spring break, but also to Black Friday. Late evening shopping, Sunday crowds, it’s actually all a bit flatter. Sunday is a good shopping day, but seems to have peaked.”
Do people no longer seem to be tempted by traditional retail moments?
“People are increasingly making a conscious choice to go to the shopping street. There is massive online shopping and online preparation. When people make the choice to come to the physical store, they have a clearly defined intention and they also spend more money compared to an unplanned retail visit. There are certainly fewer people coming to the shopping street than before, but on the other hand, they know better what they want and spend more money. That actually only benefits the productivity of retailers.”
What Bureau RMC points out in the study is that weather conditions are much more than special sales promotions the determining factor for city center visits. 2023 initially seemed to be a disastrous year for inner cities, but due to the above-average spring weather in May and June, the decline in the number of passers-by was limited to -2.5 percent. Spring broke through at the beginning of May 2023 and visitor numbers increased accordingly. “Up to somewhere around 32 degrees, because then it becomes less pleasant to shop.”
Women exposed, trade dead. Does that assumption still hold?
“At 27 degrees it is of course also nice to lie on the beach. But if it gets really tropical, then it is of course not pleasant weather for shopping. More and more shops have air conditioning. At a high temperature you actually walk from air conditioning to air conditioning. Then it may also be the case that in the long term people will accept really high temperatures and still go shopping, like in the warm south of Europe. After all, shops are nice and cool.”
In the press release you asked yourself out loud: Does this mean that the current shopper wants to shop but also wants to sit on the terrace?
“Today’s shoppers are better prepared. He doesn’t have to go to the store to find the nail book in the right size. The fun shopping that traditionally took place on late evening or Saturday has become more efficient. You can reach your goal faster. If you want to find entertainment, you do not just do so by walking around the shopping street, but you do so in combination with, for example, visiting a terrace or other forms of recreational stay.
That is nothing new by the way. We have been calling it recreational shopping for fifteen years. It seems that this development is gaining more and more ground. When people go to the city center, they do not do so solely to shop.
All in all, it may be a bit dangerous to draw a final conclusion from this. And yet: the thought is justified that higher temperatures are a more important motivation for coming to the city center than special sales promotions. I have not specifically investigated that idea, but it seems obvious. What you can learn from this is that the city center is no longer a shopping paradise, but a place where people look for entertainment.”
The key question is of course: what should you do with this as a retailer?
“Whether you sell fashion, shoes or brown and white goods: I see that various formulas are stunting less than before. Consumers will come, especially now that the popularity of online shopping is under pressure. Our motto used to be: ‘Give running horses oats’, in other words: when the consumer is willing to go to the store, then you must also come up with your actions. Do not advertise counter-cyclically.
January is an important cleaning month, but when it is cold and bleak, consumers stay at home. Perhaps the retailer should concentrate its promotional volume more on months when the shopping weather is more pleasant, in March, April or May. When the consumer comes to the shopping street, try to entice him to purchase from you instead of from your competitor. What I also want to say: shopping Sundays, Saturdays or shopping evenings may no longer be peaks, but don’t cross them out either. In any case, the consumer shows that he comes when it suits him.”
Finally, let’s talk about the weather: is it smart to respond to this in terms of product range? The higher the temperature, the more emphasis on fans and air conditioners?
“That is also a recent theme. Everyone looks for air conditioning when it gets hot. Assortment-wise, this is being addressed, but what I find remarkable is that trade seems less price-driven than five years ago. In the past, you could buy a TV every week for a mega promotional price. You see that to a much lesser extent. Apparently shoppers are less likely to show specific price-driven behavior than before. People are increasingly showing conscious, less impulse-driven behavior. An impulse moment like a sale no longer has the power it used to have.”