UK footfall stays weak, consumers take "no-splurge" approach

UK physical stores retail remained sluggish last month with consumers unwilling to spend. And what appeared to be a recovery across the month as a whole and in certain weeks was seen to be nothing of the sort when comparisons with last year and Easter calendar shifts are taken into account.


UK shopping centres suffered most in March as they failed to attract visitors in big enough numbers


Footfall to non-food retail stores picked up in March with a rise of 1.4% being much better than the fall of 6% a year ago. But this year’s rise didn’t come anywhere close to making up for the previous year’s decline. And given that March 2018 had been dented by heavy snow that kept shoppers at home, while recent weeks have seen milder weather, the March 2019 performance wasn’t very encouraging.

Specialist tracking firm Springboard said the three-month average is for a decline of 0.3%, a bit better than the six-month and 12-month average drops of 1.4%.

Once again though, shopping centres were the weakest location. Springboard said that high street footfall actually managed to rise 2.5% (again though, not making up for March 2018’s 8.6% drop). Retail parks did go some way to restoring the balance compared to last year with the 1.5% rise this time almost wiping out the memory of a 1.8% drop last March. But shopping centres were down 1% this time, on top of the 4.8% fall a year ago. That made March the 24th month of consecutive decline. 

Diane Wehrle, Springboard Marketing and Insights Director, said: “At first sight the year-on-year rise in footfall of 1.4% in March appears to signify a reverse in trend from the previous two years, when footfall dropped in all but two of the past 22 months. However, while news of an improvement in footfall would be most welcome, it is simply not the case and instead, the rise of 1.4% should be regarded as an exceptional circumstance relating to a dramatic slump in footfall in March 2018. Indeed, this was by far the worst monthly result of the year and adversely influenced the outcome for footfall in 2018 as a whole.”

She said the latest figures show that “we continue to be in the midst of a no-splurge culture. With consumer confidence continuing to languish, shoppers are clearly focused on prudence.”

This trend is underlined when looking at footfall in each week, with the month being “book-ended by two strong weeks while footfall plunged in the middle three weeks.” The most significant uplift this year occurred in the first week of the month when footfall rose by 17.6% against the same week in 2018, when snowstorms hit the UK causing footfall to drop by 16.6%. The second positive week – in the last week of the month – contrasts with the Good Friday/Easter Saturday week last year when the UK was once again hit by bad weather, which caused footfall to drop by 1.3%, hence a rise of 1.2% in the same week this year.

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