UK footfall edges up but rise is too slow to rescue the season

Springboard released its November footfall figures on Monday and they made less-than-encouraging reading as visitor traffic to stores rose marginally (by 0.2%) in a month when such traffic should have picked up even more.


UK footfall picked up in November but not enough


Admittedly, that 0.2%rise was better than the the 1% dip seen a year ago, but with the two years taken together, it still puts footfall below what it was in 2015.

Shoppers in the South East and the North & Yorkshire were resilient with store visits up 1.6%. And some other areas rose too. So why was the overall figure so weak?

A lot of that was down to Greater London where this densely populated region, which is also home to huge number of stores, saw a 0.1% footfall dip. Again, this was better than November last year when the drop was 0.8%. But combined, the two falls don’t paint a pretty picture.

Steeper declines were seen in Northern Ireland, despite reports that the weak pound encouraged large numbers of cross-border shoppers from the Republic of Ireland, as well as in Scotland and the South West.

Of the three types of shopping location, Shopping Centres were the poorest performers, growing in the South West and Wales only. High Streets showed positive growth for all but three regions (Greater London, Northern Ireland and the South West). And Retail Parks continued to show overall growth, however at a decelerated rate of 0.3% on a three-month rolling average, compared to 1.8% six months ago.
 
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said of all this: “November saw a slightly improved picture for shopper footfall as retailers enticed customers with early deals in the lead up to Black Friday. And while online continues to take the greatest share of Black Friday sales, stores continue to prove popular for visitors as showrooms and click-and-collect destinations.

“Though very welcome after four consecutive months of decline, the month’s growth in footfall is unlikely to signal a reversal of the longer-term trend. A cautious consumer may sap some of the sparkle from this year’s Christmas trading, which means retailers are going to have to compete even harder for customer spend.” 
Springboard Marketing and Insights Director Diane Wehrle also said that the small overall rise should “be taken with a pinch of salt and sadly doesn’t necessarily indicate a change in the winter fortunes of retailers. November was characterised by significant discounting with flash sales of up to 50% off, which culminated in the Black Friday period at the end of the month.”

However, she also said that while Black Friday was largely an online event, the rise in footfall of 3.3% from the first half of the month to the second half demonstrated that it drove activity into retail destinations, both in the lead up to the day itself and over Black Friday Weekend as shoppers collected online purchases. 

But what’s also clear is that many trips were leisure rather than spending driven, as footfall across all destinations rose post 17:00 by 1.7% yet dropped by 0.3% during retail trading hours.

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