Shoppers stayed away from the high street in October amid rainy weather and Brexit uncertainty, new footfall figures suggest.
The number of people visiting stores was down by 3.2% in October, according to the monthly BRC-Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor.
Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, said: “The drop in footfall of -3.2% was the worst result for October in seven years. Whilst it can’t be regarded as a purely pre-Brexit breakdown as the weather also played a part, the prevailing political uncertainty must be having a considerable impact on activity given the low level of consumer confidence.”
The figures also reflect a continuing decline in footfall, as shoppers opt to buy online rather than in store. Last week, BRC figures showed that 31.6% of retail sales took place over the internet in October, up from 29.8% a year earlier amid “extraordinary” levels of discounting.
These latest figures suggest that high streets were the hardest hit, with footfall down by 4.9% during the month and by 7.4% in the final week of the month. That’s below the three month average trend (-2.8%).
Footfall at retail parks fell (-0.5%) for the first time in five months, below the three-month average rate (+0.2%). And visitor numbers t shopping centre was also down (-2.4%), with a slight improvement on the three-month average (-2.6%).
“High streets were hit hardest in October, with the wet and wintery weather putting off many consumers from venturing out to the shops,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC). “Weak consumer demand and Brexit uncertainty have both impacted sales in recent months and this could be further affected by the imminent election campaign. Nonetheless, retailers will be hoping for footfall to pick up as they enter the all-important Golden Quarter.”
Wehrle said the full last week of the month - the monitor runs September 29 to October 26 – had been the hardest for shopkeepers. “When confidence is low it doesn’t take much to deter shoppers and the torrential rain in the last week of the month hit footfall particularly hard, resulting in a drop over those seven days of 6.2%,” she said. “All three destination types – high streets, shopping centres and retail parks – were impacted by a much greater drop in the last week of the month than in the previous three. But by far the worst result came from high streets, where footfall declined (-7.4%), which is not unexpected given their exposure to the elements. Indeed, the significant impact on high streets was felt across the board geographically, with footfall declining in all but one area and in four areas (Greater London, the South East, the North and Yorkshire and Wales) the drop was in excess of 5%.”
She said that the UK store vacancy rate improved slightly to 10% in October from 10.3% in July. “However,” she added, “we must be mindful about reading too much into this as it is a teen that has been present in previous years as the number of pop-up shops and temporary lets increase int eh run up to Halloween and Christmas. The strong vacancy result in London versus other parts of the UK is not unusual and has often been the case, as it is London - with its far higher footfall volumes - that is so often the incubator for new retail concepts and fledgling bricks and mortar businesses.”
The figures came as official figures also out today suggest that the UK narrowly escaped recession as GDP grew by 0.3% in the third quarter of 2019, compared to the previous three months. Compared with the same period in the previous year, GDP was up by 1% – the lowest rate of growth since the first quarter of 2010, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
An ONS statistician said: “GDP grew steadily in the third quarter, mainly thanks to a strong July. Services again led the way with construction also performing well. Manufacturing failed to grow as falls in many industries were offset by car production bouncing back following April shutdowns.
“Looking at the picture over the last year, growth slowed to its lowest rate in almost a decade. The underlying trade deficit narrowed, mainly due to growing exports of both goods and services.”
Image: InternetRetailing Media/Paul Skeldon