May sees footfall begin to increase

Lock down has seen retail footfall decline to unprecedented levels, forcing some businesses into administration and giving almost all companies cause for serious concern and action. However, according to the latest report from Springboard, lock down easing is seeing a tentative uptick in footfall trends.

“The second month of lock down meant that retail footfall in May continued to remain at an unprecedented low, declining by -73.3 % year on year,” said Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director. “This was a marginal improvement on the drop of -80.1% in April, reflecting the immediate response of consumers to the easing of government restrictions as garden centres and home stores were given the green light to reopen. However, in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where restrictions were not relaxed, footfall was -75.0% lower than in May 2019, reflecting the more limited movement of consumers.

“The fact that it was the sunniest May since 1957 certainly helped, combined with the two bank holidays which bookended the month. In the week leading up to each bank holiday footfall across all UK retail destinations rose by an average of +12.0% from the week before compared with just +5.5% in the other two weeks of the month. In high streets, the impact was even more startling, with an average increase in footfall of +15.4% from the weeks before.

“The opening of home stores and garden centres led to a significant rebound in footfall in retail parks, from a drop of -68.1% in April to -55.1% in May. In each week of the month, footfall strengthened slightly, moving from an annual decline of -59.1% in the first week to -50.8% by the last week of the month.

“The subject on everyone’s lips is what will the likely success be of the reopening of non-essential retail on 15th June. The limited evidence so far has suggested that despite the growth in online shopping over the past two months, there is a huge amount of pent up demand amongst consumers for bricks and mortar shopping. The first indication of this were the monumental queues that built up at major home stores in the weekend before the official easing of lockdown restrictions in England on 1st June; footfall strengthened noticeably in retail parks over the first few days of the week following this, with the decline averaging -42.9% versus -56.2% over the same days at the beginning of May.

“Whilst retail parks are already seeing some recovery in footfall, this is certainly not the case for high streets and shopping centres, where the decline in footfall over the few days since 1st June still remains at more than -70.0%. Inevitably it has been smaller high streets that have been the most resilient as consumers stayed local, with footfall in UK regional cities declining by -88.8% in May compared with -41.4% across the smallest high streets.

“The key trend to be watched over the period of retail reopening in June, and over subsequent months, will be whether this signals the beginning of a new era for local high streets. Certainly, what is likely is that those destinations and retailers that are best able to manage customer numbers to ensure social distancing will be the most in demand by consumers as safety during shopping is paramount.”

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