Sep 9, 2019
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UK footfall continues to decline and shopping centres suffer the most

Sep 9, 2019

There was more bad news about UK retail on Monday with Springboard’s August footfall figures not making for happy reading.

UK shopping centres suffered last month - Sandra Halliday

While the BDO High street sales tracker on Friday had suggested that footfall wasn't too bad last month (even though actual sales were weak), this latest report from Springboard painted a gloomier picture on the footfall front.

The company, which specialises in tracking visitor traffic to shops, said footfall was down 1.3% year-on-year in August. That was on top of a 1.6% decline this time last year, continuing the overall sluggish trend.

On a three-month basis, footfall decreased by 2.1%. The six and 12–month average declines are 1.4% and 1.7% respectively.

And in terms of the different retail destinations, last month's figures reflected the long-term trend. Shopping centres, where plenty of fashion shops are located, suffered the most with a 2.2% fall on top of the 2.4% drop of a year ago.

Retail parks, which fortunately (given that they’ve been fairly buoyant) have been hosting more and more fashion shops in recent periods, rose by 1%. This managed to beat the very small 0.3% increase of a year ago.

And high streets were down almost by exactly the same amount as this time last year – 1.9% compared to a 2% fall in August 2018.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard Marketing and Insights Director, wasn't surprised though. She said: “In the face of weak consumer confidence and declining sales, a drop in footfall of 1.3% in August wasn't unexpected. We must remember that declining footfall is a long-term trend with annual increases being the exception rather than the rule. Indeed, footfall has declined in every year since Springboard started publishing its national data in January 2009.

“On a positive note, August had the strongest footfall over the summer months, and it was also an improvement on last year when footfall declined by 1.6%. This month’s result was bolstered by the final week of the month, when the hottest August bank holiday on record ‘improved’ footfall from -1.4% to -0.6%.”

That said, again looking at the BDO figures released late last week, the hot weather at the end of the month may have improved footfall but it also resulted in a “calamitous fall for in-store sales,” BDO had said.

Springboard added that the final week of the month also highlighted the difference in consumer demand for each of the destination types. Despite back-to-school trading, footfall in shopping centres dropped by 2.4% in the final week compared with an average of -2% over the previous three weeks. 

On high streets, footfall strengthened noticeably in the final week to just -0.1%, moving from a decline of more than 2% in each of the first three weeks, as consumers looked to make the most of the good weather. 

Retail park footfall rose in each of the first three weeks, averaging +1%, levelling off in the last week but remaining in positive territory. “This demonstrates their ongoing attractiveness to shoppers as they continue to bridge the convenience-experience gap, necessary in today’s retail environment,” Wehrle said.

The British Retail Consortium’s CEO, Helen Dickinson, added: “Cautious consumers are holding back on discretionary spending and not heading out to the shops. There is little sign that the stresses on retail will abate any time soon. Stuck between weak demand thanks to Brexit uncertainty, and rising costs resulting from business rates and other public policy costs, many retailers are clearly struggling.”

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