The number of shoppers visiting UK stores has "plummeted" over the last two months, new data suggests. At the same time, more shops now stand empty.
Footfall was down by 3.3% in April, after falling by 6% in March, according to today’s BRC-Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor. The national town centre vacancy rate was 9.2% in April 2018, up from 8.9% in January 2018.
Easter this year fell in March rather than April, as last year. But when both months were taken together, "footfall has plummeted," said Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard. She added: "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%."
Footfall decreased by -9% over the first half of the month and then recovered slightly to a positive 1.5% in the second half, possibly due to better weather conditions.
Overall, footfall across all UK regions has declined over the last two months. Wales (-1.5%) and London (-2.4%) experienced a slower rate of footfall downturn, while Northern Ireland (-7.3%) was harder hit.
“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," said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC). "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."
She added: "While these figures highlight the difficulties faced by retailers, they also point to the evolution of the industry. Retailers are embracing changing customer behaviour and adapting to a challenging environment by rebalancing investment in physical and digital infrastructure. Policy-makers can help support our industry and the re-making of our high streets by creating a progressive policy environment."