Footfall in March grew 1.3% on the previous year – the fastest annual growth in footfall for three years – according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and retail intelligence company Springboard.
This is well above the three-month average of -0.2% but there is an impact on this number due to a calendar distortion: March 2016 included Easter Sunday, when shops were shut, whereas this year did not. This added one more shopping day, and therefore one more day’s footfall, to the period.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson OBE said: “Shopper visits increased to all retail destinations in March. This is partly due to the exclusion of Easter Sunday from the period, which therefore benefitted from an additional shopping day. But even looking beyond the distortion, the positive growth across most of the country is a reassuring sign for retailers.
“The high street [with growth of 1.7%] continued to outperform shopping centres [0.2%] and retail parks [1.4%], for the second consecutive month. Disappointingly though, this didn’t translate into retail sales, which were down in March on the previous year.”
Northern Ireland reported the steepest footfall decline with a drop of 3.7%. This was followed by the south-west, where footfall fell by 2.3%.
Springboard marketing and insights director Diane Wehrle commented: “March definitely provided a break in the clouds, with the 1.3% rise in footfall breaking a six-month consecutive decline and the 0.2% increase in footfall in shopping centres being the first since January 2016.
“Whilst some of the +1.3% may have been a consequence of the loss of a trading day last year due to an early Easter, the impact of this shift should not be overstated, as it will have been mitigated by increased trade on the other days over the Easter trading period.
“If anything, it is more evidence of the continuing structural shift in the use of retail destinations for leisure and hospitality trips.
“Virtually all of the increase in footfall in March was derived from the post-5pm period, while footfall during the trading hours of 9am to 5pm dropped – by just -0.5% in high streets, but much more significantly, by -7.1%, in shopping centres.
“Indeed, the worsening of consumer confidence and inflation from last year is likely to be constraining shoppers’ willingness to spend on retail goods.
“This all lends further evidence to the fact that retail is no longer the sole driver of footfall, with a strong leisure/hospitality offer being a critical element to secure retail success.”
The BRC-Springboard footfall and vacancies monitor for March covered the five weeks from February 26 to April 1.