UK Retail Footfall Dips in May

Posted on 20 June, 2013 by Kirsten Kennedy

The recent sunshine and increase in temperature across the UK has been welcomed by retailers, especially following last summer’s washout conditions. Yet unfortunately, May’s footfall figures have proven to be something of a disappointment after a relatively successful April, with shopping centres suffering particularly due to a certain degree of consumer apathy.

According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) / Springboard Footfall Monitor, footfall across the UK dropped by 0.7 per cent overall when compared to May 2012. Shopping centres saw the number of customers passing through their doors drop by an average of 1.7 per cent while the high street hardly fared better, recording a fall of 1 per cent nationwide.

Shopping centres now have a footfall which charts well below the national average – a fact which could very well jeopardise retail developments currently in the pipeline across the UK.

Fortunately, the figures were balanced out slightly by the reasonably admirable footfall of out-of-town retail parks which saw an increase of 1.2 per cent. The BRC confirmed that this was the best performance in this category during the past 6 months, although it highlighted the fact that there was a high level of variation when regional results were taken into account.

Director General of the BRC, Helen Dickinson, says; “On the surface these figures are fairly flat, but they’re masking widespread regional variations and only two areas in England – Greater London and the East – are showing positive footfall growth compared with May 2012.

“As the recent unemployment figures highlighted, the outlook in terms of job prospects and economic growth is by no means ‘one size fits all’ across the UK.

“Now that we’re into June, retailers will be hoping that summer sales and sunshine will make for a stronger showing next time.”

Fortunately, despite the relatively disappointing footfall figures, retailers seemed to post strong profits growth as was demonstrated in the BRC’s Retail Sales Monitor. Ms Dickinson believes that, as in April, promotional activity played a role in this steadily improving trend and, as a result, came to the conclusion that consumers made fewer trips to the local high street or shopping centre yet were more likely to make a purchase when venturing out.

Retail Insights Director at Springboard, Diane Wherle, believes that the diversity of offerings and later opening times are working in the favour of larger town centres and retail parks, while shopping centres and small retail districts are failing to keep up with changing consumer trends.

She concludes; “Town centres benefit from greater diversity than the majority of shopping centres, and the evening economy is clearly protecting and insulating the high street.

“This reflects the feedback we are receiving from town centre managers who state that by far the strongest demand for units is from food and beverage occupiers who operate outside of retail trading hours.”

With the weather continuing to improve throughout the summer months and retailers continuing the trend of promotional activity, consumers remain keen to leave the house and spend their evenings shopping. However, should shopping centres fail to take advantage of this shift in consumer behaviour they may find themselves languishing in wintry conditions for some time to come.

Do you think shopping centres would record higher levels of footfall if their opening hours were altered to reflect the habits of modern-day consumers, or is it more a matter of diversifying the typical offering with some independent and smaller chain stores?

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