Second half of 2015 sees decline in Russian shopping activity slow

Second half of 2015 sees decline in Russian shopping activity slow
Larger shopping malls are suffering more than smaller ones.
By Henry Kirby in London February 5, 2016

The ongoing decline in Russian shopping mall footfall appeared to ease in the second half of 2015, as data from July-December indicated a slower year-on-year decline compared with the same periods in 2014.

Data from the Watcom Shopping Index, which uses people-counting devices to measure footfall in shopping malls, showed that after sharp annual decreases in the first six months of 2015, the last two quarters of suggested an upturn in shopping activity.

While the data still paints an overall picture of declining activity in Russian malls, the quarterly data suggests that Russian shoppers' aversion to parting with cash is starting to subside. October-December's 5.1% year-on-year decline of 5.1% marked a 2.8 percentage point (pp) improvement on the corresponding figure from 2014, while the July-September decline of 5.9% was 6.1pps less than in 2014.

January saw the Watcom index plummet in line with typical seasonal changes, as the New Year and Christmas holidays came to an end. The first four weeks of 2016 saw the index fall from 620.2 to 486.5.

Despite the steep drop over the new year, the seasonal decrease was only marginally sharper than the 20.2% fall in January 2015, and considerably less pronounced than the 30.3% decrease in January 2014. However, it should be noted that the January 2014 decrease immediately followed the index hitting a three-year high of 781 in the final week of 2013.

Watcom group president Roman Skorokhodov said the seasonal fall was "no surprise" as "consumer activity has been decreasing over the last 2 years". He added that the continued decrease is fuelled mainly by a lack of activity in larger malls. "In small format shopping centres," he said, "[footfall] did not change a lot."

Festive penny pinching was taken to an extreme in some cases, with 23% of Russians not receiving any gifts whatsoever in the holiday period, a poll by Moscow-based VTsIOM found.

The same poll found that expenditure fell short of expectations, with average actual expenditure over New Year of RUB9,543 ($135 at December rate) falling short of the RUB11,884 that respondents predicted they would spend when asked in December.