Monday 9 September 2019 12:45 am

Retail footfall drops again in August as economy slows

The number of Britons venturing out to visit shops fell again in August, bringing yet more problems for a retail sector that has suffered a number of casualties this year.

Read more: Hot weather fails to heat up retail sales in August

Footfall fell by 1.3 per cent in August year on year, compared to a yearly fall of 1.9 per cent in July, according to a retail survey from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and data group Springboard.

“Increasingly cautious consumers are holding back on discretionary spending and not heading out to the shops,” said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson.

The weak footfall figures come at a turbulent time for the retail sector and the UK economy.

Household name Debenhams, cake-maker Patisserie Valerie, and fashion labels Pretty Green and LK Bennett have all gone into administration in 2019.

The British economy shrank in the second quarter, meanwhile, as Brexit uncertainty took its toll on manufacturers and investment.

“There is little sign that the stresses on retail will abate any time soon,” Dickinson said. “Stuck between weak demand thanks to Brexit uncertainty, and rising costs resulting from business rates and other public policy costs, many retailers are clearly struggling.” 

In August, high street footfall declined 1.9 per cent year on year. This was a less serious decline than the 2.7 per cent yearly fall seen in July, however.

Retail parks, which combine experiences with shopping, saw footfall rise by one per cent in August.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, said: “We must remember that declining footfall is a long term trend with annual increases being the exception rather than the rule.” 

“Indeed, footfall has declined in every year since Springboard started publishing its national data in January 2009.”

Philipp Gutzwiller, large corporates head of retail at Lloyds Bank, said many retailers have taken steps to reduce the cost of their store footprints in 2019, with 43 per cent trying to negotiate lower rents.

He said: “We’ve seen plenty of evidence of bricks-and-mortar retailers acting to secure their futures, from talking to and negotiating with landlords to shutting stores.”

Read more: UK economy shrinks for first time in seven years

Dickinson said there needs to be action on Brexit and business rates. “The Government should take the opportunity to reduce the heavy cost burden holding back retail investment,” she said.