UK retail footfall: Shoppers abandon high street at even faster pace in March

Kasmira Jefford
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Storm Katie drove shoppers away from high streets over the Easter bank holiday (Source: Getty)

Shoppers abandoned the high street at an even faster pace last month, with the early timing of Easter and the heavy rain brought on by Storm Katie blamed for keeping visitors away.

Footfall dropped by 2.7 per cent in the year to March, according to figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and retail analysts Springboard released today. That compares with a 1.1 per cent fall in February and a rise of 1.2 per cent in shopper numbers year-on-year in January.

High street bricks and mortar stores suffered the biggest decline, the research showed. The number of visitors through retailers’ doors fell by 3.9 per cent, which was lower than the 2.9 per cent dip reported in February.

Traffic to shopping centres also fell by 3.7 per cent compared with 0.6 per cent the previous month while retail park footfall increased by 1.6 per cent year-on-year, though this was down from the 2.5 per cent rise in February.

Springboard’s marketing and insights director, Diane Wehrle, Springboard said the near four per cent declined was caused in part by the stormy weather and the early timing of Easter, which traditionally kick starts demand for spring fashion.

“Adverse weather when new season stock comes in significantly impacts shopping trips. With a drop in footfall of 2.7 per cent, this is exactly what occurred this March.”

The poor footfall performance echoes the subdued retail sales data published last week, with sales unchanged on March 2015 compared with a 4.7 per cent annual increase registered in this month last year.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said the decline in shopper numbers was also a continuation of a longer term trend caused by on-going structural change within the industry, as people shop increasingly online.

Retailers including Next have also warned that consumers spending more on other leisure activities such as eating out has also drawn some spending away from shops.

Read More: One million retail jobs at risk from rising wage and tax costs, warns BRC.

“We also know that declining footfall makes it harder to keep shops open and profitable. Areas that are already economically fragile are likely to see the greatest impact of future store closures," she said.

"Retailers will have to look hard, too, at the effectiveness of their workforce and some of the people affected by changing roles will be those who find it most difficult to transition into new jobs that are created. The implications of all of this change will be uneven across different parts of the country, different parts of the retail workforce and different sizes of business.”

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