News gets worse as UK April footfall figures are released
Footfall to UK stores was sluggish during April, despite the weather improving as the month wore on. The drop of 3.3% was a “significant decline” compared to the 1.6% uplift seen in April 2017 when Easter flattered the figures.
That said, at least the 3.3% decline wasn’t as bad as the 6% drop during March that was caused by the snowy weather. The two months combined - which is a worthwhile measure given how the timing of Easter see-saws across March and April - resulted in an “unprecedented” drop of 4.8%.
Specialist tracking company Springboard said that April was definitely a month of two halves with the first half seeing a 9% footfall plunge as the weather stayed cold, followed by a 1.5% increase in the second half on the back of higher, more spring-like temperatures.
Springboard said that “not since the depths of recession in 2009, has footfall over March and April declined to such a degree, and even then the drop was less severe at 3.8%,” although back then, retailers didn’t have to contend quite so much with the impact of online sales.
There was no growth in Footfall for any UK region during April and while that means we’ve now seen two months of consecutive decline, most regions saw a slower rate of decline. Footfall in Wales was down 1.5% and Greater London dropped by ‘only’ 2.4%. But in Northern Ireland it was down a worrying 7.3%.
The company also said that the national town centre vacancy rate was 9.2% in April, up from 8.9% in January. All regions saw an increase in the vacancy rate, except Greater London, where the rate dropped to 3.6% from 5.6% in January.
Diane Wehrle, Springboard Marketing and Insights Director, said of all this: “Much could be made of the adverse impact on April's footfall of Easter shifting to March, but even looking at March and April together - so smoothing this out - still demonstrates that footfall has plummeted.
“In the last two weeks [of April] footfall did recover, averaging 1.5%, undoubtedly assisted by improved weather, but it was not enough to repair the damage.”
British Retail Consortium CEO Helen Dickinson added: “A wet start to April had a dampening effect on visits across the UK’s shopping locations adding to the long term downward trend in footfall resulting from changing consumer behaviour. That shift in the way we shop, coupled with a highly challenging business environment, is having a significant impact on the nation’s high streets: in April nearly one in 10 shops in town centres was vacant.
“While these figures highlight the difficulties faced by retailers, they also point to the evolution of the industry. Retailers are embracing changing customer behaviour and adapting to a challenging environment by rebalancing investment in physical and digital infrastructure. Policy-makers can help support our industry and the re-making of our high streets by creating a progressive policy environment that allows retailers to adapt successfully.”
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