Retail sales figures released this morning by the British Retail Consortium and KPMG suggest the industry is in decline, but new data from footfall analysts Springboard indicates that there are towns and cities in the UK seeing visitor numbers rise.
Springboard’s High Street Index for March reveals that Stirling in Scotland and Worthing in West Sussex reported year-on-year footfall increases of 29.4 per cent and 17.6 per cent respectively during the month.
Both appear to have benefited from a mix of local initiatives and focusing on their town’s individualism, and they perhaps serve as an example to other communities contemplating ways of attracting people to their town centres.
Andy Kennedy from local representative group Stirling Town Centre Management, which is part of the Association of Town Centre Management (ATCM), said his town has experienced a particularly strong first three months of 2011 despite footfall declining 1.5 per cent nationwide during that time.
“Last year’s streetscape initiative to gear our town centre towards pedestrians rather than vehicles has really come to fruition and not only led to a 30 per cent jump in footfall, but an extremely low vacancy void rate of just 7.5 per cent,” he explained.
“An influx of independent boutiques and young fashion brands such as H&M has also attracted additional shoppers to the area.”
There have been various reports suggesting that the high street is dying as property vacancies rise, but an increasing number of companies and communities are beginning to acknowledge the fact that traditional retail is changing, and are adapting to the times accordingly.
Sharon Clarke, Manager of Worthing Town Centre Initiative, remarked: “We attribute our positive footfall levels to Worthing town centre’s unusual mix of leisure and retail.
“People come to Worthing for a free day at the seaside and visit the shops at the same time. We have therefore seen a move towards food, drink and health & beauty brands opening up.”
More than 85 towns and cities are monitored for Springboard’s index, and overall footfall in March was reportedly up by 7.8 per cent compared to February, although it dropped 1.3 per cent year-on-year.
Considering March 2010 experienced an annual footfall decline of three per cent despite the month including Good Friday and Easter Saturday trading, Springboard suggests that last month’s figures can be described as “much better than expected”.
Steve Booth, CEO Springboard, commented: “Whilst there is a lot of pressure on consumer purse strings, from higher living costs, VAT and wage cuts, in March shoppers supported their local high streets with a good month-on-month footfall increase, and a softening in year-on-year footfall decline.
“Whilst it is early days, this starts to tell a positive story about how consumers are returning to their local high streets.”
Springboard’s footfall data will now be published on a monthly basis, having previously only been available to the ATCM.