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High street visitor numbers down by 4% in March

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The number of visitors to the high street fell by almost 4% in March, as the way shoppers buy continues to change, new British Retail Consortium analysis suggests.

The fall in visits to the high street came in at 3.9% during the month, compared to a year earlier, according to the BRC-Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor for March 2016. That’s greater than the 2.9% year-on-year decline seen in February. The high street is at the sharp end of a trend that is seeing visitor numbers falling at a time when shoppers no longer distinguish between shopping channels, whether online, mobile or the store. Overall footfall, including to retail parks and shopping centres, was down by 2.7% in March, with visitor numbers to shopping centres down by 3.7%.

Visitor numbers to retail parks continued to buck the downward footfall trend and grew by 1.6%, year-on-year. But that figure is down from the 2.5% rise seen in February.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said the decline was distorted in part by an earlier Easter this year. “It is, however, also a continuation of a longer-term trend caused by on-going structural change within the retail industry. Customers don’t differentiate between buying online, on a mobile device or in-store and often combine two or more different channels when they shop.

“Therefore, as well as their significant investment in digital, retailers know they also need to continually improve their physical stores to ensure an ever changing and more exciting shopping experience. The ongoing decline in levels of footfall highlights the significance of this structural change.”

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard said: “An early Easter is always a challenge for retail destinations as the bank holiday traditionally kick starts demand for Spring fashion and household purchasing. 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. High streets and shopping centres were affected the most, and even the longstanding uplift in footfall on retail parks was dampened.”

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