Year-on-year footfall in March fell by -6%, the sharpest decline since 2010, as retailers were hit by poor weather and an underlying downward trend in shopper traffic.
According to the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard, it was a grim month all round with no growth in footfall for any UK regions. The most notable declines (year-on-year) were seen in Greater London, down -7.5%, the South East, down -6.5%, an the East Midlands, down -5.6%.
Growth fell in all shopping destinations: high streets saw a decline of -8.6%, retail parks of -1.8% and shopping centres of -4.8%.
The -6% overall drop in the period from 25 February to 31 March 2018 compared to an increase of 1.3% seen in 2017 and was far greater than the 12-month average decline of -1.2%.
BRC CEO Helen Dickinson said the bad weather played a part in the figures but was not the only reason for the decline. “Whilst the prolonged period of bad weather has had an impact on shoppers visiting the high street, we are seeing a longer term trend of reduced footfall which highlights that shoppers face more choice in terms of how, where and when they shop,” she said.
“The retail environment is changing and retailers are investing in innovation and technology adaptations in response to this. Policy-makers must also play their part with a vision for a modern business taxation system which reflects this new environment,” Dickinson added.
Springboard marketing and insights director Diane Wehrle said the severe weather in March, which led to much of the country being covered in snow, came at the worst possible time, just after pay day, with shoppers deferring shopping trips, while Easter was hampered by persistent rain.
“A proportion of [deferred shopping trips due to snow] was made up over Easter, with footfall in shopping centres and retail parks rising from last Easter but this was more than offset by the impact of the heavy rain on high streets. Indeed, throughout the month we were able to track the impact on footfall each day as adverse weather moved across the UK,” Wehrle said.
“Comparing the weekly trend with annual change in footfall enables us to see the fundamentals underlying shopper activity. So whilst footfall was hit hard in the first week of the month, declining by -17.1% from the week before, it bounced back, rising by +25.5% in the second week and by an average of +2.3% over the month, demonstrating that deferred trips were reinstated when the weather improved,” Wehrle explained.
Wehrle echoed Dickinson’s view that, while the weather didn’t help, it was far from the only factor with declining consumer confidence and changing consumer habits contributing the the long-term downward trend. “[…] the bounce back was based on a reduced shopper pool compared with last year, with the significant annual decline of -6% over the month demonstrating that there is reduced shopper activity this year than in 2017,” she said.
“This is undoubtedly a function of low consumer confidence arising from ongoing economic constraints attached to current price inflation and concern for the future, exacerbated by the underlying structural shift in consumer habits away from purely transaction based activity towards activity with a leisure focus,” Wehrle concluded.
Image: BRC Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor