BRC-Springboard: fastest quarter of footfall growth for five years in April

Footfall in April grew 1.6% year-on-year in the UK across all retail destinations – which represents the fastest growth since March 2014, according the latest statistics from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and analyst Springboard.

Covering the four weeks from April 2 to April 29, their data reveals that on the high streets, footfall grew 2.3% year-on-year. In retail parks, footfall saw an uplift of 2.7%. But in shopping centres, footfall dipped by 0.6%.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson OBE commented: “The Easter holidays boosted family visits to shopping destinations in April, resulting in the fastest annual growth of footfall since March 2014. The inclusion of the holidays in this period will have distorted this figure but even looking beyond this, the picture over the last quarter has been largely positive.

“As has been the trend for some months now, high streets across most of the UK attracted the largest increase in visitors out of all shopping destinations. This translated into good news for stores too, which saw their fastest annual sales growth since January last year.”

BRC and Springboard said the national town centre vacancy rate was 9.3% in April, down from 9.4% in January 2017.

Helen noted: “At first glance the vacancy rate also looks positive for the month, with a modest decline. However, this average figure belies the increase that occurred in all areas of the UK except London, the East and the North & Yorkshire.

“We will have to wait for the impact of April’s business rates revaluations to materialise, but the challenges that businesses face as the UK negotiates its future relationship with Europe has made reducing the burden – and fundamentally reforming – the business tax system, even more critical.”

Springboard marketing and insights director Diane Wehrle added that the footfall boost was also fuelled by the weakened pound, “which drove an increase in overseas tourists – demonstrated by a 2.7% uplift in footfall in London’s West End in April – and in Easter staycations amongst domestic visitors.”

She said Easter staycations boosted footfall by 5.1% in coastal towns and by 7.9% in historic towns.

Plus, “The underlying structural shift towards leisure-focused trips meant that whilst high street footfall rose 1.9% during retail trading hours, trips to high streets after 5pm increased by more than 3%.”

Referring to the vacancy rate’s slight improvement, she said: “The vacancy rate is perhaps a portent of things to come. Inflationary pressures are likely to increase, which could suppress customer behaviour and therefore occupier demand – notwithstanding the emergence of new occupiers, who initially tend to focus on London.”

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