A wet and stormy July meant British retailers did not enjoy their usual mid-summer boost, as the high street footfall growth seen in recent months took a battering.
According to the latest monthly footfall monitor from BRC-Springboard, overall footfall across the UK retail industry dropped by 1.1 per cent year-on-year last month. This was steeper than the average three-month dip of 0.4 per cent this year.
The high street was the worst affected, with a decline of 2.1 per cent, while shopping centres experienced its fourth consecutive month of decline with a 1.3 per cent fall.
Retail parks were the only destinations to see an increase with an uptick of 1.7 per cent.
“Most shopping destinations saw a decline in footfall in July compared with the previous year,” British Retail Consortium (BRC) chief executive Helen Dickinson said.
“Even high streets, which have seen fairly stable growth over recent months, reported a decline.
“Retail parks were the exception and have fared relatively well since March this year reflecting in part lower rental costs compared to prime and town centre locations as well as convenience for shoppers.
“The overall decline in footfall translated into weak sales performance for stores in non-food particularly, which fell further into negative territory as consumers rein back spending on non-essential items.”
Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle said July’s results also hints at consumers’ willingness to spend on things other than essentials.
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“It was the first time since January that footfall dropped during both retail trading hours and into the evening,” she said.
“Over the last few months the growing importance of the leisure based trip has become a key part of the narrative when talking about retail destinations, but a 0.5 per cent drop in footfall post 5pm in July is the first evidence of a tightening of purse strings on casual dining and leisure trips.”
Wehrle added: “Despite a drop in fashion sales, consumers increased their spending on products for the home and out of town locations are the beneficiaries.
“July’s 1.7 per cent increase in out of town footfall is the fifth in as many months, and averaging 1.9 per cent since March compared with (a decline of) 0.3 per cent over the previous five month period.”
On a regional basis, the east and south east of England were the only regions to see footfall increase in July.
The steepest drops were in the south west of England and Greater London, both of which experienced falls of 2.1 per cent.
Meanwhile, Wales showed the first decline in seven months at 0.9 per cent while Scotland saw a further drop from 0.2 per cent in June to 0.4 per cent last month.
Dickinson added that the vacancy rate in UK retail was now “at its highest” for a year and failed “to brighten the picture” for what was a challenging month for retailers.
“Nearly one in 10 retail shops currently lie vacant and those in some vulnerable communities remain persistently empty, limiting the chances of these places to thrive,” she said.
Wehrle said the vacancy rates, combined with the footfall figures, suggests that “trading conditions could be reaching a tipping point into a period of restraint”.