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Visitors to UK stores fell by 10% in the last seven years: BRC/Springboard

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The number of people visiting UK stores fell by 1.7% in September – and has fallen by 10% in the last seven years alone, new figures suggest.

BRC and Springboard analysis suggests that 1.7% fewer shoppers went into stores in September 2019 than in September 2018, while at least 10% fewer paid a visit than did so in September 2012.

The change has come as more people make more of their purchases online – the latest ONS Retail Sales report suggested that in August 2019, 19.7% of retail purchases were made online. But it has also come as shoppers spent less: that same ONS report suggested shoppers spent less online than they did the previous month.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “Retailers are facing a sustained drop in footfall, with numbers of visitors down over 10% in the last seven years alone. With Brexit looming, many consumers are holding off from all but essential purchases, and it is no surprise that the 1.7% drop in football has also contributed to a similar fall in sales. High street and shopping centres were hardest hit with retail parks faring slightly better as they continue to entice shoppers with their varied consumer offering.” 

Diane Wehrle, Springboard marketing and insights director, said: “Given the monumental changes that have occurred in our retail trading landscape over the past decade, it is unsurprising that the long-term footfall trend is a downward one. However, with 80% of spend remaining in store there is still much for bricks and mortar stores to play for in Q4 of 2019, which of course includes the all-important festive trading period. 

The September BRC-Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor showed high street visitor numbers down by 1.8% in September, and by an average of 2.1% over three months. Last September, the figure was down by 2.2%. Shopping centre footfall was 3.2% down (-2.5% Sept 2018, -2.9% latest three month average). The only growth in visitor numbers was seen at retail parks, where 0.1% more visited in September  (+0.1%, Sept 2018, +0.7% latest three month average). 

Wehrle said bad weather had been behind the September decline. “Whilst the drop in footfall of -1.7% in September was greater than in August, the vast majority of this decline emanated from the last week of the month when footfall was hit by exceptionally heavy rain,” she said. “To provide some context, the decline in footfall of -6.1% in that last week of the month was the worst of any week since March/April 2018 when the UK was hit by the Beast from the East. 

“The relatively strong footfall performance in the preceding four weeks, which averaged at -0.7%, had been looking reasonably positive and had the last week’s rain not hit the month’s performance, it is likely that footfall for the month would have dropped by less than -1%.

“Stores maintained their capture rate in September, demonstrating that in-store customer numbers tracked wider market trends. In fact, it was only in the fashion category where store customer numbers dropped by proportionally more than footfall in destinations.”

Dickinson said: “The ongoing transformation of the retail industry is putting increasing pressure on retailers, which is now compounded by the spectre of a no deal Brexit on 31st October. If the Government wants to support consumers and retailers they should make sure they take no deal off the table, while also addressing the public policy costs such as business rates that prevent shops from investing in their retail offering.”

Image: InternetRetailing Media/Paul Skeldon

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