May footfall marginally improves despite sales boost

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May footfall

May’s sunny weather and bank holiday weekends provided a welcome boost in footfall across high street and out-of-town retail parks, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the trend of declining bricks-and-mortar store visits.

According to the latest monthly BRC-Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor, footfall fell in May by 0.4 per cent on the previous year but this was a marked improvement over March and April, which recorded declines of six per cent and 3.3 per cent respectively.

However, footfall was still down despite May being a good month for sales thanks to favourable weather and a poor year-on-year comparable, and despite in-store sales recording growth for the first time in two years.

Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle said it would be “highly premature” to regard the month-on-month improvement in footfall in May as any form of bounce back.

“Instead at least in part it is likely to be a consequence of shopping trips being deferred from April – when the weather continued to be cold and wet – into May,” she said.

“It might also be regarded as a reflection of consumer demand resulting from the two May bank holidays which anchored the month at both ends.

“In reality, however, footfall actually declined in both bank holiday weeks, reflecting a long term trend identified by Springboard of the lessening in importance of public holidays for retail.”

The footfall monitor found that retail parks saw growth of 0.5 per cent and high streets of 0.6 per cent, but shopping centres continued to see significant year-on-year declines with a fall of 2.9 per cent in May.

Only three regions saw footfall growth in May: North & Yorkshire at 0.7 per cent, Northern Ireland at 0.5 per cent, and Wales at 0.6 per cent.

Greater London recorded the biggest decline with a drop of 1.5 per cent, but all regions improved on last month.

Meanwhile, footfall after 5pm continued to outperform activity during traditional retail trading hours.

Between 9am and 5pm throughout May, footfall declined by 1.2 per cent, compared to after 5pm when it rose by two per cent.

“The variance between the two parts of the day is most significant in shopping centres where day time footfall dropped by 3.6 per cent compared with a rise of 0.4 per cent post 5pm,” Wehrle said.

“And although the post 5pm period is still less significant in terms of the volume of activity, the ongoing drop in day time footfall means that the number of customers visiting bricks-and-mortar stores will continue to diminish, leaving the onus on retailers to better exploit a reduced store customer base in order to drive sales growth.”

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said that although retailers were continuing to adapt their stores to their customers’ changing behaviours by investing in the integration of their online and bricks-and-mortar businesses, reform was still needed to help bring empty retail space back to life.

“Policy makers can help to ease the pressure on both retailers and high streets by addressing the burden of business rates and adapting planning laws to support the successful reinvention of empty retail space,” she said.

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