Jun 10, 2019
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UK footfall plunged in May, all destination types suffered

Jun 10, 2019

Not one piece of news that has come out about UK retail in relation to its performance during May has been remotely encouraging as of yet. And on Monday, there was another release that added to the gloom as visitor traffic data specialist Springboard offered up its latest monthly report.

Shopping centres saw fewer visitors last month

The headline figure was that footfall dropped by as much as 3.5% year-on-year. It had declined in May 2018 as well, but back then, the sunny weather and a spate of events such as the Royal wedding and big sports fixtures all added up to a drop of just 0.4%.

This May’s very changeable weather, and the ongoing uncertainty and political fallout around the UK's departure from the EU, drove visitor traffic to physical shops down even further. And let's not forget the ongoing effect of online sales, which continue to grow in Britain even in the face of a cautious consumer climate and divert shoppers from stores.

The figure in May looks particularly bad in comparison to the three-, six-, and 12-month averages, which were, respectively, declines of 0.7%, 1.3% and 1.4%.

And the extent of the fall in May can be seen by the fact that even the most buoyant of retail destination (retail parks) saw a decline. They were down 0.8%, much worse than the three-month average of +1%.

And shopping centres were even worse. They fell by 3.6%, steeper than the three-month average decline of 2.1%. But they didn't come close to the 4.8% drop on high streets.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard Marketing and Insights Director, said of all this: “The 3.5% drop in footfall in UK bricks and mortar destinations in May is a poor result and is consistent with the drop in sales for the month. However, we should note the year-on-year comparisons are off the back of a particularly strong result in May last year of -0.4% which was boosted by warm weather and special events and followed on from a challenging April marred by bad weather and loss of seasonal sales due to the early March Easter.”

Yet despite these comparisons, last May was hardly a bumper month and so the fall this time remains worrying.

Wehrle added: “All destination types found it much tougher this May to attract customers, but the fact that the greatest impact was felt by high streets with a drop in footfall of 4.8% is not a surprise given the much poorer weather than in May last year. Footfall worsened across all parts of the day, but the most significant drop occurred post-5pm, moving from a rise of 1.9% in May last year to a decline of 4.5% this year.”

She said it was no surprise therefore that the casual dining sector in the UK has seen a number of notable failures of late. Cafes and restaurants are key in attracting customers to high streets (and other shopping destinations) and with some of them closing, the appeal of some shopping locations is diminished. And of course, we can't ignore the fact that declining footfall is partly responsible for their problems in the first place. Either way, it also means lower footfall to the fashion shops that now rely on consumers who are visiting physical destinations to do more than just shopping.

Helen Dickinson, Chief-Executive of the British Retail Consortium, added: “The UK experienced the worst footfall figures in six years. This reflects our recent sales data, which showed the largest drop in retail sale on record. The colder weather, as well as ongoing political and economic uncertainty, made many consumers think twice before heading out to the shops this May.

“While consumers stayed away from the shops, retailers still had to pay the full cost of Business Rates, which are levied regardless of whether a store makes a penny at the till. These rising costs are making many retailers rethink investment decisions, as well as contributing to store closures up and down the country.”

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