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Fewer visitors headed to shopping centres and high streets in August – but more went to retail parks

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The number of people visiting the UK’s stores fell in August, as fewer shoppers headed to high streets and shopping centres, but more visited retail parks for a more convenient way of buying, new analysis suggests. 

Footfall was down by 1.3% in August, compared to the same time last year, when it fell by 1.6%, according to the BRC-Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor for August. Visitor numbers fell both on high streets (-1.9%) and shopping centres (-22%), although retail park shopper numbers grew by 1%. 

The update comes soon after the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor for August 2019 showed shoppers continuing to do more of their shopping online. While sales across all channels were flat, there was growth online and a decline in stores.

Today’s footfall figures reflect the longer-term trend: over the last three months high street visitors have fallen an average of 3.1% compared with the same period last year, while shopping centre numbers fell by 2.6% although retail parks saw footfall grow by an average of 0.7% over that period. 

Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, said that the overall fall wasn’t unpexected in the face of “weak consumer confidence and declining sales.” She added: “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.

“On a positive note, August had the strongest footfall over the summer months, and it was also an improvement on last year when footfall declined by -1.6%. This month’s result was bolstered by the final week of the month, when the hottest August bank holiday on record improved footfall from -1.4% to -0.6%.”

She said that the back-to-school final week of the month illustrated how consumer demand is changing depending on the destination, with retail park visitors opting to combine convenience and experience. That convenience comes with online shopping and multichannel services such as click and collect, while many retail parks offer cinemas, bowling alleys or other non-retail attractions.

“Despite back to school trading, footfall in shopping centres dropped by -2.4% in the final week compared with an average of -2% over the previous three weeks,” said Wehrle. “In high streets, footfall strengthened noticeably in the final week to just -0.1%, moving from a decline of more than -2% in each of the first three weeks, as consumers looked to make the most of the good weather. In contrast, in retail parks footfall rose in each of the first three weeks, averaging +1%, levelling off in the last week but remaining in positive territory. This demonstrates their ongoing attractiveness to shoppers as they continue to bridge the convenience-experience gap, necessary in today’s retail environment.”

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “Retail footfall continues its downwards trajectory this month, with high streets and shopping centres most affected. The long-term trend, which has seen footfall decline by an average of 1.7% over the last twelve months, reflects the fact that increasingly cautious consumers are holding back on discretionary spending and not heading out to the shops. Only retail parks, with their combination of activities and shopping, were able to buck the trend.

“There is little sign that the stresses on retail will abate any time soon. 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. The Government should take the opportunity to reduce the heavy cost burden holding back retail investment.”

Image: InternetRetailing Media/Paul Skeldon

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