September UK footfall growth continues to slow as high streets bear the brunt
When a report opens with ‘severity of the economic situation for UK households’ we all know what to expect. Springboard on Thursday talked of “diminishing customer activity” in September, particularly on UK high streets, reflecting a slowing of the recovery in footfall from September 2021 when all Covid restrictions had been removed.
Covering the 28 August-1 October period, footfall in high streets was 'only' 9.5% above the 2021 level versus +7.7% in shopping centres. But high streets had been 13.9% above 2021 in August.
By contrast, activity in shopping centres strengthened marginally, from +7.5% in August. In retail parks it was very much “steady as she goes”, with footfall in September just 0.3% above 2021.
Compared to pre-Covid 2019, the gap narrowed in September to -12.6% from -13.2% in August. High streets were 14.4% down compared to three years ago, 16.7% lower in shopping centres and 4.3% lower in retail parks.
So, as we can see, it's not brilliant, but it's not as if footfall is grinding to a halt either.
Of course, there are some big challenges. Springboard noted that not only are high streets facing the challenge of inflation, but hybrid working is also impacting the recovery of footfall.
“With around a half of all employees continuing to work at home for at least part of the working week, activity in high streets remains significantly lower than in 2019, particularly during the Monday to Friday period”, it said.
In September, footfall in UK high streets during weekdays was 17.4% below 2019 versus just 6.9% below 2019 during the weekends.
“The energy price guarantee introduced by the government has eased some of the severe doom felt by many households. However, the ongoing rate of inflation combined with the recent rise in interest rates means that from October onwards shoppers will inevitably exercise even greater discretion and be more considered in their purchasing behaviour”, the report said.
“The impact on footfall and therefore on retail sales will be immediate, with it also being likely that fewer trips will be made to larger centres that incur a greater travel cost. This was a trend that Springboard identified over the previous two recessionary periods when austerity encouraged shoppers to shop more locally.
But Springboard did add: “On a positive note this may continue to deliver a greater degree of resilience in smaller, more local high streets that was a key trend of the pandemic period".
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