British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard have found that store footfall in the UK fell by an unprecedented 3.3% in March.
Springboard marketing and insights director Diane Wehrle said: “A -3.3% drop in April, following on from -6% in March, resulted in an unprecedented drop of -4.8% over the two months. Not since the depths of recession in 2009, has footfall over March and April declined to such a degree, and even then the drop was less severe at -3.8%.”
There was no growth in footfall for any UK region with some regions seeing a slower rate of decline, most notably in Wales’s by 1.5%, and Greater London’s by 2.4%. However, footfall in Northern Ireland fell sharply by 7.3% from -1.8% the previous month, with a three month average decline of 2.9%.
Wehrle said: “Given the decline in footfall over the month, negative LFL retail sales was not unexpected. Indeed, we had an early warning sign of what was likely to come by the end of the second week, as footfall dropped by an enormous -9% over the first half of the month. In the last two weeks footfall did recover, averaging +1.5%, undoubtedly assisted by improved weather but it was not enough to repair the damage.”
The report revealed that the national town centre vacancy rate was 9.2% in April, up from 8.9% in January. All regions across the UK saw an increase in the vacancy rate, except Greater London where the rate dropped to 3.6% from 5.6% in January.
According to BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson, changing shopping habits and tough trading were weighing on high streets.
She said: “A wet start to April had a dampening effect on visits across the UK’s shopping locations adding to the long term downward in footfall resulting from changing consumer behaviour. That shift in the way we shop, coupled with a highly challenging business environment, is having a significant impact on the nation’s high streets: in April nearly 1 in 10 shops in town centres was vacant.”
While 4,083 stores opened in 2017, the lowest number since 2010, 5,855 stores have closed, meaning a total of 1,772 shops have disappeared according to the Local Data Company.
The BRC and Springboard found that while footfall improved in the second weeks of the month, people were choosing to spend their money on leisure activities, such as going to restaurants or pubs rather than shopping.
Wehrle added: “The parlous state of retail trading is highlighted by the fact that footfall post 5pm recovered in the last two weeks of the month, rising by +5.9%, whilst day time footfall dropped by -0.1%.
“Our in-store footfall trackers demonstrate that hospitality outlets lost proportionately less footfall than bricks and mortar destinations generally.
“So it is clear that retail trading is doubly challenged by a thrifty consumer in concert with a continuing predisposition towards leisure rather than retail spend; reflected by a rise in the vacancy rate to 9.2%.”
Last month, official figures for the three months to February revealed that average wages increased by 2.8%, still below the 2.9% inflation rate using the consumer prices index (CPI) measure.