UK footfall dropped in September, fashion suffered most

today Oct 14, 2019
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We know already from a number of reports that September retail wasn't good in the UK. And the latest footfall figures have backed up those earlier reports. Specialist tracking company Springboard said on Monday that visitor traffic to physical shops dropped by 1.7% last month year-on-year.

UK stores saw fewer visitors last month - Sandra Halliday

That may not sound a lot, but it also dropped by the same amount last September. And when you add in all the other declines that have happened this year and earlier, it adds up to a bleak scenario for physical retail. Overall, footfall is down as much as 10% in the last seven years.

Springboard said that on a three-month basis, footfall decreased by 1.6%. The six and 12-month averages are -2% and -1.7% respectively.

And the even worse news was that while stores maintained their ‘capture rate’ in September, it was only in the fashion category where store customer numbers dropped by proportionally more than footfall in destinations.

Of course, not all retail destinations suffered as much as others and the biggest fallers were, as usual, shopping centres. Footfall here declined a hefty 3.2%. That was on top of a 2.5% fall this time last year and a three-month average decline of 2.9%. It's bad news for mall operators and also for the fashion and beauty sector in general as shopping centres are where more fashion shops tend to be concentrated.

High-street footfall dropped by 1.8% last month but retail parks continued to benefit from changing shopper habits. Their footfall rose 0.1% in September, having been up by the same amount a year earlier with three-month average growth of 0.7%.

Retail parks have transformed themselves in recent years and have gone from fairly bleak locations that were largely home to supermarkets and DIY stores to become more lively centres that also host an increasing number of fashion retailers, as well as dining and other leisure options.

Was there any upside to the monthly report? Diane Wehrle, Springboard Marketing and Insights Director said that while the 1.7% overall monthly drop was greater than in August, the vast majority of this decline came from the last week of the month when footfall was hit by exceptionally heavy rain. To provide some context, the decline in footfall of 6.1% in that last week of the month was the worst of any week since March/April 2018 when the UK struggled with the Beast from the East snowstorm. 

“The relatively strong footfall performance in the preceding four weeks, which averaged at -0.7%, had been looking reasonably positive and had the last week’s rain not hit the month’s performance, it is likely that footfall for the month would have dropped by less than 1%,” Wehrle said.

“Given the monumental changes that have occurred in our retail trading landscape over the past decade, it is unsurprising that the long-term footfall trend is a downward one. However, with 80% of spend remaining in-store, there is still much for bricks and mortar stores to play for in Q4, which of course includes the all-important festive trading period.”

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