UK shopper footfall is down again but decline slows

UK shopper footfall delivered a mix of good news and bad for February, or at least bad news and not quite so bad news. The regular monthly report from the BRC and Springboard on Monday showed a 0.5% decline, which was better than the 1% drop seen this time last year, but with the two added together, it was a further sign of tough times on the high street.


UK footfall was weaker in February but the pace of the decline is slowing down


So where was the good news in all this? Springboard also said the small decline in last month was better than the three month average of -2%. And half of the regions saw growth in February, with Northern Ireland ending eight months of consecutive decline. The East Midlands and The East also returned to growth.

But Greater London and the South East continued to struggle with dips of 1% and 1.1%. 

But there was bad news for fashion as shopping centres (where lots of fashion stores are concentrated) were weak performers with a 0.9% drop. However, high streets did worse, falling 1.2%. Retails Parks outperformed all other shopping locations with a rise of 1.2%.

Of course, we have to take into account that there was heavy snowfall in the UK last month and we have already heard from Springboard that this suppressed shopper sentiment and general footfall.

So Diane Wehrle, Springboard Marketing and Insights Director, was relatively upbeat, highlighting how February’s drop was less than a third of that recorded in January and lower than the 12-month average. “The other good news was that the -0.9% drop in shopping centre footfall was better than the past five months, and could finally be a sign of the positive impact of investment by centre owners over the past few years,” she said. 

Key to February’s result was an improvement in daytime footfall. Accounting for around two-thirds of total visitor traffic, this dropped by just -0.6% compared with -2.1% in January. “It demonstrates that consumers still have enthusiasm for making shopping trips, albeit they are cautious about spending, which is reflected in declining store sales in February,” Wehrle added. 

“However, it is still tricky to get an accurate temperature reading of retail trading trends this year. The current raft of closures among retailers and hospitality operators are at least in part due to overly bullish budgeting over the period from 2015, before the pre-Brexit economic jitters, but clearly exacerbated by poorer than expected Christmas trading.”

She believes the recent snow and an early Easter will impact footfall in March, and so April’s footfall will also be affected. A true trading picture will therefore only be clear at the end of the second quarter.

But British Retail Consortium CEO Helen Dickinson, thinks there might be cause for optimism. “Looking ahead, there’s some hope that shopper activity will pick up now that inflationary pressure has started to subside and wage growth is expected to move in the right direction,” she said. “But this will offer only modest relief to retailers and consumers and the recent sad news announcing the closures of several well-known high street retailers should sharpen our focus to what is going on in retail in the UK at present. 

“Retailers are facing into rapid structural change from digital evolution and rising operating costs. We know that there will be fewer stores in the future as portfolios are consolidated, so businesses and communities need to focus on repurposing physical space based on experience and refining the interplay with digital.”

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