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Store visits fell in May, as online growth also slowed: BRC

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There were fewer visitors to Britain’s shops in May, with high streets seeing their fastest decline in two years, new analysis suggests.

Footfall to UK stores fell by 1% in May, compared to the same time last year, according to the latest BRC-Springboard Footfall & Vacancies Monitor, with visitor numbers to the high street down by 2% and to shopping centres down by 1.3%. The only area of growth was in out-of-town retail parks, where visitor numbers grew by 1.5%.

The decline in the number of people visiting stores comes in a month when ecommerce sales slowed, according to BRC figures published last week. They suggested that online sales grew at their slowest rate for four years, with internet sales of non-food items up by 4.3% during the month. That was down from 13.7% a year earlier, and at its lowest level since the BRC analysis started in December 2012.

Commenting on this week’s footfall figures, Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium , said: “After the Easter boost in shopper numbers to retail destinations, footfall fell in May, which was mirrored in the month’s sales performance. But it wasn’t just shops that suffered; poor weather at the beginning of the month kept people indoors and made it a poor month for footfall in general with fewer people out and about.

“The biggest movement was noticeable in the number of visitors to the high street, which after several months of growth, saw the steepest decline since June last year. In an uncertain economic climate, retailers will be looking to the next Government to deliver on their commitment to fundamental reform of business rates; to implement a more sustainable system that allows for growth and investment.”

Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, said: “May was clearly a month of moderation for UK shoppers, with a -1% drop in footfall across all destinations, and a -2% drop in the high street. The slowing of growth in footfall post 5pm to +1.1% in May from +3.5% in May 2016 reflects this moderation, suggesting fewer shoppers opted to stay longer and eat out after their shopping trips; a concern for retail locations that have focussed on expanding their food offer to grow shopper dwell time. The drop in footfall was mirrored by a drop of -3.7% in UK sales as measured by Springboard’s sales index which tracks sales in bricks and mortar stores – with fashion spend in particular dipping in May. These are clear signals that consumers have started to display greater spending restraint.

“Whilst May’s footfall decline didn’t show a dramatic drop overall, the result for high streets was the worst result since June 2016 when high street footfall declined by -3.7% in the wake of the EU Referendum. However, April’s results were boosted by the shift in Easter from March in 2016 to April this year, so it is unsurprising that there was a downward shift in footfall from last month, particularly as UK consumers could feel additionally cautious in the lead up to the General Election.”

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