Retail footfall continued to fall year-on-year in February across most retail destinations, even before the impact of the snow during the last two weeks.
According to the latest Footfall and Vacancies Monitor from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard covering January 28 to February 24, footfall decreased by 0.5 per cent year-on-year.
While it is a dramatic slowdown compared to the one per cent growth seen in the same period last year, it was still less than a third of that recorded in January, lower than the three-month average of -2 per cent decline, and lower that the 12 month average of -0.7 per cent.
Half of the UK’s regions saw growth in February, the most notable being Northern Ireland which grew by 0.3 per cent and ending eight months of consecutive decline.
East Midlands grew by 2.1 per cent up from the 2.2 per cent decrease in the previous month.
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The East also returned to growth, footfall having increased by 0.7 per cent in February.
Meanwhile, Greater London and the South East continued to experience decline of 1.1 per cent and one per cent respectively.
Retail parks outperformed all other shopping locations, with those in the West Midlands growing by 5.1 per cent, South East by 4.8 per cent and South West by 2.6 per cent.
High street footfall showed growth in three regions; East Midlands at 4.8 per cent, Northern Ireland at 1.9 per cent and the East at 1.8 per cent.
On the other hand, shopping centres were the weakest performing of all three shopping destinations, with the West Midlands being the only region that recorded growth a 0.7 per cent.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said the month’s footfall was exacerbated by the snowfall in the final two weeks and flat consumer spending overall, which continues to struggle against the current retail headwinds.
“Looking ahead, there’s some hope that shopper activity will pick-up now that inflationary pressure has started to subside and wage growth is expected to move in the right direction,” she said.
“But this will offer only modest relief to retailers and consumers and the recent sad news announcing the closures of several well-known high street retailers should sharpen our focus to what is going on in retail in the UK at present.
“Retailers are facing into rapid structural change from digital evolution and rising operating costs.
“We know that there will be fewer stores in the future as portfolios are consolidated, so businesses and communities need to focus on repurposing physical space based on experience and refining the interplay with digital.
“For policymakers meanwhile, it is about recognising and acting on the disproportionate impact these headwinds are having on vulnerable communities up and down the country.”
Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle said February’s results provided “some good news in the face of the trading challenges for retailers reported recently”.
“The other good news was that the -0.9 per cent drop in shopping centre footfall was better than the past five months, and could finally be a sign of the positive impact of investment by centre owners over the past few years,” she said.
“Key to February’s result was an improvement in day time footfall. Accounting for around two-thirds of total footfall, this dropped by just -0.6 per cent compared with -2.1 per cent in January.
“It demonstrates that consumers still have enthusiasm for making shopping trips, albeit they are cautious about spending, which is reflected in declining store sales in February.”
Wehrle added that the raft of closures among retailers recently were partly due to “overly bullish” budgeting over the period from 2015 – before the pre-Brexit economic jitters – but exacerbated by poorer than expected Christmas trading.
“The recent snow and an early Easter will impact footfall in March, and so April’s footfall will also be affected,” she said.
“A true like-for-like trading picture will therefore only be clear at the end of the second quarter, meaning retailers will have to hold their breaths to know how 2018 is shaping up.”