April weather dampens footfall

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard footfall and vacancies monitor for April 2018 painted a challenging picture for bricks and mortar retailers, with the weather playing a major role in declining footfall.

Year-on-year, footfall in April decreased by 3.3%, a significant decline compared to the positive rate of 1.6% seen in April 2017. This is in line with the 3-month average of -3.5% and below the 12-month average of -1.8%.

There was no growth in footfall for any UK region, the second month of consecutive decline.

The national town centre vacancy rate was 9.2% in April 2018, up from 8.9% in January 2018. All regions saw an increase in the vacancy rate, except Greater London.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson OBE commented: “A wet start to April had a dampening effect on visits across the UK’s shopping locations adding to the long term downward trend in footfall resulting from changing consumer behaviour. That shift in the way we shop, coupled with a highly challenging business environment, is having a significant impact on the nation’s high streets: in April nearly one in 10 shops in town centres was vacant.

“While these figures highlight the difficulties faced by retailers, they also point to the evolution of the industry. Retailers are embracing changing customer behaviour and adapting to a challenging environment by rebalancing investment in physical and digital infrastructure. Policy-makers can help support our industry and the re-making of our high streets by creating a progressive policy environment that allows retailers to adapt successfully.”

Springboard marketing and insights director Diane Wehrle added: “Much could be made of the adverse impact on April’s footfall of Easter shifting to March, but even looking at March and April together – so smoothing this out – still demonstrates that footfall has plummeted. A -3.3% drop in April, following on from -6% in March, resulted in an unprecedented drop of -4.8% over the two months. Not since the depths of recession in 2009, has footfall over March and April declined to such a degree, and even then the drop was less severe at -3.8%.

“Given the decline in footfall over the month, negative LFL retail sales was not unexpected. Indeed, we had an early warning sign of what was likely to come by the end of the second week, as footfall dropped by an enormous -9% over the first half of the month. In the last two weeks footfall did recover, averaging +1.5%, undoubtedly assisted by improved weather but it was not enough to repair the damage.

“Indeed, the parlous state of retail trading is highlighted by the fact that footfall post 5pm recovered in the last two weeks of the month, rising by +5.9%, whilst day time footfall dropped by -0.1%. Our in-store footfall trackers demonstrate that hospitality outlets lost proportionately less footfall than bricks and mortar destinations generally. So it is clear that retail trading is doubly challenged by a thrifty consumer in concert with a continuing predisposition towards leisure rather than retail spend; reflected by a rise in the vacancy rate to 9.2%.”

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