No spring in step for March retail footfall

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard has released its retail footfall figures for March, covering the five weeks from February 25 to March 31.

Year-on-year, footfall dropped by 6% – a substantial slump compared with the positive rate of 1.3% for March 2017 – and the steepest year-on-year fall since the end of 2010.

There was no growth in footfall for any UK regions. The most notable year-on-year declines were seen in Greater London (-7.5%), south-east (-6.5%) and East Midlands (-5.6%).

Growth fell in all shopping destinations: the high street saw a decline of 8.6%, retail parks wee down by 1.8% and shopping centres by 4.8%.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson OBE said: “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.

“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.”

Springboard marketing and insights director Diane Wehrle added: “The severe weather put paid to any glimmer of hope for an uplift in shopper activity in March. Hitting the week following the pay day weekend was the worst timing possible, as it meant that shoppers who had available budget deferred trips. A proportion of this 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.

“Throughout the month we were able to track the impact on footfall each day as adverse weather moved across the UK. 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.

“But 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.

“This is undoubtedly a function of low consumer confidence, arising from ongoing economic constraints attached to current price inflation and is a 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.”

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